First date, check!
Perfectly planned engagement, check!
Unforgettable wedding, check!
Honeymoon …………. delayed honeymoon, check!
Our wedding was by far one of the best days of our life (click here if you have yet to see the video)! Again, a big thanks to our family and friends for their support and willingness to come up to Maine in the heat of the summer. While the heat led to the dance floor looking like a slip-n’- slide contest – we ended up sliding right past a 6 day/7night ‘all-inclusive‘ and found ourselves on a self-drawn waitlist for the international honeymoon we were dreaming of.
We waited a while … 2 years in fact! We took a “mini-moon” in Bar Harbor (Maine) following the wedding, but our practical sides put paying off our student loans first before we spent big money on an international getaway. Sounds lame, but it was psychologically freeing when we signed the divorce papers from Sallie Mae and at the same time elevated our QOL (Quality of Life) another 100 points – only adding to the excitement of our honeymoon!
We had the month of January blocked out before we needed to start our next travel assignment. We wanted a mix of culture, adventure, and to chill out on some of the best beaches in the world. THAILAND had been recommended to us on more than one occasion by both family and friends who had recently travelled and it shortly became a no brainer – Flights were booked, bags packed … already wishing we were back!
WHEN TO GO ?
You’ll read on any travel website that Thailand has a hot (March-May), a wet (April/May-December), and a cool (December-February) season. A poorly timed trip could rob you from experiencing the best weather in both the northern provinces and southern islands within the same week. Temperatures remain stagnant in the high 90’s during the hot season and monsoons drive in pouring rain and high seas depending on which southern coast you plan to visit during the wet seasons.
On the Andaman or west coast, where Phuket, Krabi, and the Phi Phi Islands lie, the southwest monsoon brings heavy storms from April to October, while on the Gulf of Thailand or east coast, where Koh Samui, Koh Phangan, and Koh Tao lie, the most rain falls between September and December. – www.tourismthailand.org
Like most North Americans (especially our fellow New Englanders), we went during the cool season, leaving the Northern Country and the Andaman/west coast up for grabs. While our USD’s went a long way, prices were elevated and hotels/resorts book up quick so make sure you plan ahead – leave a little leeway as you might get better deals negotiating in town once you get to each place.
It seems most international flights arrive in Bangkok (Suvarnabhumi International Airport), but you can also get in directly to Phuket, Chiang Mai, and Ko Samui from either Hong Kong or Singapore.
When booking intra-Thailand flights, we used http://www.skyscanner.com/. It ends up relocating you to the Thai Airways or Bangkok Airways (2 of the most popular and higher rated airlines in the country) individual sites to firm up your booking, but it seemed to identify fares that were far below what were posted elsewhere.
15-Day Itinerary: Bangkok, Phuket, Koh Phi Phi, Chiang Mai
Bangkok is a must, simply because you have to fly in there. I would suggest spending at least 2-3 days in your gateway city once you arrive to get over the jet lag, and then maybe just a night before going back home.
How to get there from Suvarnabhumi (Su-wana-poomi): Taxi seemed to be the easiest and cheapest to go. Larger vans for more than 4 people are also available.
- After getting some Baht at the exchange, head outside and grab a ticket from a kiosk and your ticket number will direct you to your taxi location.
- We paid a flat rate of 400 baht (to Sukhumvit) which seemed in the range of previously written reviews.
Where we stayed: The Marriott in Sukhumvit – Middle of the road luxury hotel with a roof top bar/pool. Sukhumvit has a ton of bars, restaurants and boutique hotels. The sites can be easily reached by public transportation: the Skytrain, Riverboat, or taxi.
- With hostels/boutique hotels ranging from $15-250/night to luxury hotels with rooftop bars running from $350-700/night, Bangkok can be a great city for splurging no matter what your budget is like.
- Top Luxury Hotels: The Peninsula, the Shangri-La and the Mandarin Oriental are especially cool as they sit on the Chao Praya river with easy access to a long boat tour and downtown Khao San Road and the Grand Palace.
- For backpackers: Khao San Road (“The Centre of the Backpacking Universe”)
Our 1-Day Play-By-Play: We lucked out and the first taxi we took to head downtown was with a young Tahitian driver named “Top”. With only 1 day to see all of Bangkok before our flight out the next morning, we ended up negotiating a fare of 1500 Baht (~$40) to hire him for the entire day – he even gave us a cell phone to call when we went in areas he could not take the car (i.e. Grand Palace). A little sketchy, but got us to hit all the big spots before 5pm:
- Wat Traimit: in Chinatown, solid gold seated Buddha inside
- Longtail Boat Ride on Chao Praya River: bumpy ride, but pretty exhilirating getting the free high from all the gasoline being pumped out from the onboard engine. It’s a must and an easy way to get to across the river to Wat Arun.
- Wat Arun: located on Thonburi side of Bangkok. The longtail boat will drop you off at the dock and after taking in the temple, you’ll then take the fairy back across river toward Wat Pho and The Grand Palace.
- Wat Pho: Temple of the Reclining Buddha and also housing Watpo Thai Traditional Massage School, thought to be the spiritual home of Thai massage.
The Grand Palace: large complex containing Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha, over 4 sq. ft. of solid emerald – no pictures aloud inside)
- Dinner: Isao. Located just off Soi 31. Japanese/Sushi Bar. Boom.
- Nightlife: Octave Rooftop Lounge and Bar. Multiple to choose from in the city with big-time views. Domestic beer of choice – Singha or Chang (both light lagers).
Tips: We were able to stay away from “Bangkok Belly” even while ingesting the occasional cup of tap water and fresh fruit from the street carts. Bottled water is everywhere. Shoes off in all Wats. Always negotiate! Tip well as they don’t expect it. Smile and be kind to the natives, they are extremely polite and warm-hearted. Everything in 3’s, never in 2’s. Make sure you get blessed by a buddha – they even made a special blessing for our son-to-be!
Phuket is a fairly large island, full of beautiful beach resorts with unfortunately not too many enticing attractions inland – catering best to those who want to call digging their feet in the sand while lifting a beer their most strenuous activity.
How to get there: for around $100-200, you can get direct flights to/from Bangkok/Chiang Mai/Ko Samui.
Where we stayed: JW Marriott Phuket Resort & Spa. Recommended by a family member, Marriotts signature luxury brand did not disappoint.
- Located on part of the 11km stretch of Mai Khao Beach (the NW region of Phuket), long morning walks and sunset picnics were a must.
- It never occurred to think of rice noodles, chilies, lime, vegetables, and curries coming together to create pungent soups as breakfast foods – however their buffet offered DIY Kao Tom and jok which I still haven’t been able to perfectly recreate since!
- Impossible to overlook the $15/hour Thai massages offered right on the beach – no need to spend the extra money for a robe, slippers or aromatherapy at a formal spa (until we went to Phi Phi …see below)
Excursion recommendation: John Gray’s Sea Canoe – Hong By Starlight experience was one we will never forget. This full-day adventure is all-inclusive, starting with a transport to/from the local pier, a formal Thai lunch and dinner, and a guided sea kayak tour through Phang Nga Bay’s marine limestone karstic islands and caves both during the day and under starlight. Caution if you’re claustrophobic, we had to deflate our bay kayak in order to get through a few tight spots while in the caves.
KOH PHI PHI
Encompassed by the main islands of Phi Phi Don and Phi Phi Ley, the islands of Koh Phi Phi are easily accessible from Phuket and Krabi – featuring translucent turquoise waters, stunning rock formations (Karsts) and some of the most breathtaking beaches in the world! On a scale from zero to knocking your socks off, you’ll be in bare feet your entire stay (literally).
How to get there: if coming from Phuket, the easiest and safest way to get to Koh Phi Phi is by ferry:
- Hire a taxi down to the Rassada Pier on the southeastern coast of Phuket. 500 baht for a one-way ticket. Check out the ferry schedule as there are only a few times per day the ferries go out. The trip takes 2 hours. It’s quite cramped on board, so grab an isle seat.
- The 1st stop is Tonsai Pier. Travelers going to the Holiday Inn, Zeavola Resort, and Phi Phi Island Village can either get off at this stop to then take a 45 min longtail boat ride to their resorts or stay on the ferry which will make another stop at Laem Tong Beach which house these 3 resorts.
- The Tonsai Pier on Phi Phi Don and its surrounding hotels/resorts is where you want to go to booze up and party! The northeastern side of Phi Phi Don with the aforementioned 3 resorts will provide more seclusion, less noise and more relaxation.
Where we stayed: following a friends recommendation, we shacked up at the Phi Phi Island Village Resort. Having a 4.5/5 star rating on booking.com, this was exactly what we envisioned prior coming to Thailand. It sits secluded on its own bay wrapped with 1-meter deep clear blue water, longtail boats rock in the distance. Mango & sticky rice was always available and the main courses were a mix of authentic Thai and American specialties. The closest surrounding resorts on Laem Tong Beach are a 30 min walk away. Called the village for a reason, the resort is a maze of private bungalows and poolside villas (with A/C)!
What to do: whether in a lounge chair or in a hammock, basking in the Thai sun should be high on your priority list, but be sure to partake in some of these worthwhile activities:
- Snorkeling: try to book an early morning (6-8 hour) excursion with a private speed boat charter. You will literally feel like you’re swimming in an aquarium. The early morning will allow you to get to Maya Bay before 10 am when all of the tourists come pouring in (“The Beach” with Leo D. was filmed there in 2000). Also enjoyed Pi Leh Bay, Monkey Island (named for its quite inquisitive furry inhabitants) and Bamboo island.
- Hike: without any roads on the island, save your moped rental for Chiang Mai! We took 2 hikes, one to the other side of Phi Phi Ley to a beach with working fisherman and another a 30 min trek over to Laem Tong Beach where there are a few more bars/restaurants.
- Spa: Easily one of the highlights of our trip! The Spa at Island Village provides a romantic and luxurious setting taking place up the mountain with dispersed bungalow treatment rooms surrounded by a bamboo forest with a scenic view. A jacuzzi bath, oatmeal wrap, facial, and 2 one-hour Thai massages (…each) later, our skin and soul are forever left on the island of Koh Phi Phi.
More laid back than its outspoken counterpart (Bangkok), Chiang Mai sits in the mountainous northern country and boasts a nonchelant attitude you will surely gravitate toward as soon as you walk off the plane. While the elephants are a big lure to the entire region, the cities ‘small town’ feeling, friendly locals and quaint cafes will leave you seriously contemplating canceling your return flight and ‘settling down’ for good.
How to get there: Chiang Mai might be your ‘hub’ instead of Bangkok if you so choose due to its international capacity. If traveling domestic, an easy 1 or 2 hour flight from Bangkok or Phuket will get you up there for around $80-200.
- If leaving to go home from Bangkok, try booking a 1-way to Bangkok from your current location, then getting a round-trip from Bangkok/Chiang Mai for a more cost-effective route.
Where we stayed: Yaang Come Village of Chiang Mai. Located minutes from the Night Bazaar and the ‘Old City’ limits, Yaang Come is tucked off the main road provided both seclusion and tranquility with its surrounding bamboo trees and saltwater pool. There is a spa on-site, but we didn’t dare dabble after our Koh Phi Phi experience. The breakfast spread was robust and set in the outdoor courtyard, leaving us well satiated until mid-afternoon. The rooms were authentic and of good quality, but despite keeping the doors/screens closed, the mosquitos were challenging to control – had us googling about “dengue fever” haha. Overall, 4/5 stars as we didn’t come to Chaing Mai to hang out in the room.
- Regardless of your budget, we recommend staying inside or just out of the “Old City” which allows close proximity to all the restaurants, markets, and temples. Yaang Come Village gave us the sensation of both proximity and seclusion. However, if you are looking for more solitude, there were many quest houses up north/east of town in the mountains that looked bangin’ and well worth the squeeze.
What to do: We left Chiang Mai wishing we were able to see and do more, but in a mere 3 days you will only hit the cusp of the cities offerings. Below is what we were able to accomplish – no need to plan everything – just let the day take you where you belong!
- Elephant Sanctuary (ENP): While most come up to the northern country to see the elephants, there are few true “elephant parks” and “sanctuaries” that grasp and actually participate in humane care for these prescious animals. Read here and here to get a better understanding on ethical treatment of elephants before booking a trip. ENP offers single day (2500 THB) and overnight (5800 THB) trips. We chose the full-day single day trip:
- A staff member picked us up at our cottage and brought us to a downtown Chiang Mai location for an overview of the trip and to square up on the bill. It was about a 1.5 hour ride north to the elephant camp where the staff member showed a video and gave us an idea of what was planned for the day (make sure to eat a big breakfast before you go as lunch is served around 12-1p).
- Once up in the mountains, we first stopped to prep the food at a nearby food stand to be fed to the elephants soon after – cutting cucumbers and bananas into halves.
- After another 15 min ride in the back of a trunk bed, a heard of elephants greeted us with open mouths and hungry bellies. The suction out of their trunks was surprising and if you’re daring you can just feed ’em right in the mouth (no worries, you’ll only come out with a slobbery hand)!
- We then “trekked” down to the river walking either by their sides or in front, always to stay in their view. The calf of the group was adorable and near took us out on many occasions with its impulsive behavior and care-free movements.
- After playing in the mud and rolling/falling on one another, we then bathed then in the river – we’re pretty sure they bathed themselves as all we did were throw small buckets of water onto their backs when on land – while they loved every minute, the true washing was accomplished after they jumped into the river themselves.
- Lunch followed and was excellent which encompassed a thai noodle dish, fresh fruits and vegetables, rice, chicken and some dumplings. You could buy beer for a few baht.
- After we again played and fed the elephants some more – they are supposed to eat about 10% of their body weight daily which can be up to 1600 lbs of food!
- Overall, this was a phenomenal experince and so glad we got to interact with these smart, intelligent and playful creatures. Thanks ENP!
- Renting a Moped: Chiang Mai is not as big as Bangkok, but still large enough that it would have been difficult to see everything on our feet. There was a privately owned moped rental shop right next to the cottage we stayed and was about 500 baht for a full day rental. You better feel comfortable riding one as the streets in town can be somewhat hectic – but for sure doable. Make sure to hit up the following:
- If not templed out, check out Wat Chedi Luang and Wat Phra Singh which are right in the heart of the Old City.
- Head over to Nimmanhaemin road which is like the ‘Brooklyn of Chiang Mai – laid back and chill vibes with a mix of shops, modern cafe’s and eclectic restaurants. This was also a place we considered when booking housing.
- We heard the Chiang Mai Zoo was worth the squeeze, but we weren’t sure we’d feel the same after spending a hands-on day with the elephants.
- A must on the moped is to head up to Doi Suthep National Park where Wat Phra That Doi Suthep lies. Half the fun is getting up/down the mountain on your moped due to the winding/steap roads and surrounding waterfalls you can trek to (make sure to get a 250cc bike to give you a bit more confidence). It was somewhat crowded and touristy, but also overflowed with locals performing their religious tasks. Stunning temples. Make sure to bring your GoPro/Camera and to have longer pants and a shirt (no tank-top) with you – if not covered up, you won’t be able to get into the temple.
- If staying on the east side of the Old City, its worth checking out the Night Bazaar for another round of bargaining for goods and probably one of the best foot rubs we’ve ever had in our lives.
- Thai Cooking School: We had a scheduling conflict where we needed to choose between spending time with the elephants or taking a Thai cooking course – so of course we chose the big guys, but our friends had just finished the day class at this Thai cooking school and said it was a must!
Where to eat: Now we are always trying to hit up the best plant-based eateries, and we came across 2 that are well worth getting to.
- Lunch: When cruising through Nimman on your moped, stop and have lunch at Anchan Vegetarian Restaurant. The chef, also the owner, has a genuine skill for creating authentic 100% vegetarian dishes. Also kept the dishes light on the oil which is our preference.
Dinner: We lucked out and right next to our cottage was Whole Earth Restaurant off Sridonchai Road. The ambiance is tranquil and has a great outdoor bar/patio for after-dinner drinks. We ordered the somosas and 3 main dishes including the mixed vegetable curry, channa masala and the seafood curry served in the banana leaf bowl. All were exceptionally done and leaving us wanting to come back for more.
For the remainder of the only afternoon/night you have left in Bangkok, take good photos, meet new people, and live in the moment as the memories we create are priceless. By now you will have received so many recommendations from other travelers or native Thais on what to do and where to stay for your last night. Whether you stay in or head out, be thankful for the opportunity to share this earth with such generous and kind hearted people…and elephants!
Safe travels and let us know your about your trip! As alawys, never.stop.moving!
Reid & Kelly