Hang out with elephants (but don’t ride them!)
Elephants are the most magnificent and gentle creatures on this planet, and it was such a privilege to spend a whole day with them at Elephant Nature Park (not far from Chiang Mai). This is one of the best places in Thailand to visit elephants, as they have the utmost respect for the animals in their care and they do not allow you to ride the elephants. All of the elephants have been rescued from the tourism or logging industry, and their quality of life has been improved by 1000%. The tour starts with a video of the horrific treatment that lots of elephants in Thailand are subject to on a daily basis. It was heart-breaking to see how cruel humans can be, torturing the elephants until they become submissive and can be easily controlled. Elephant Nature Park provides a safe and happy home for so many elephants, allowing them to forget about their awful past. We fed them and then washed them in the river - it was incredible to be so close to such amazing creatures. I am hoping to go back and spend a week volunteering there in November - one day just wasn’t long enough!
My new best friend!
Idyllic Ko Chang Island
Catch a ferry to Ko Chang
I had quite a lot to fit into three months; so sadly, I didn’t have time for island hopping in Southern Thailand. Instead, I chose to visit an island called Ko Chang, which I heard was a lot more chilled out than the other islands. It was a bit of a trek to get there, but entirely worth the journey. The island itself is stunning, a dense jungle surrounded by picturesque beaches, and the people are so friendly and welcoming. Sadly, it’s probably the only island that has managed to retain its’ charm and hasn’t been destroyed by tourism. Everything on Ko Chang is super cheap, and whilst the nightlife doesn’t quite live up to the other islands, there’s still a party atmosphere. It’s definitely somewhere I would quite like to return to one day, let’s just hope it doesn’t change!
Learn to cook Thai food
The food in Thailand is incredible and I really wanted to learn how to cook some of the signature dishes myself, so I signed up for a cooking class in Chiang Mai. Our instructor was a hilarious Thai lady who could probably have her own YouTube channel or stand up show, she was that funny! Before we started cooking, we got to try some herbs and vegetables from the garden that give Thai food its’ incredible flavour. We then chose three dishes we wanted to cook, and everything we made we got to eat. There are lots of cooking classes to choose from in Chiang Mai, all offering a similar experience. I think it’s a really great way to learn more about Thai culture, and it also means you can go home and cook authentic Thai food for your loved ones!
Food cooked by me, and it was surprisingly tasty!
Market food is the best food!
Explore markets in Bangkok
I loved wandering around markets in Thailand, mostly because I am obsessed with food and it’s where you can find all the cheapest and most delicious snacks. Bangkok has a huge array of markets, ranging from the largest weekend market in the world (Chatuchak), to the smaller niche markets, such as the retro themed market (perfect for your inner hipster) or the flower market. Don’t bother visiting the malls; you can buy everything your heart desires at the markets for a fraction of the price. Make sure to pick up a pair of elephant pants if you are backpacking, they’re part of the traveler’s uniform!
Get a Thai massage
There’s nothing quite like a Thai massage – it’s an experience that I enjoyed but also hated at the same time! It’s great because afterwards you feel like a million dollars; I’ve never felt so relaxed in my life. On the other hand, it’s terrible because you would never think such a tiny Thai lady could cause so much pain. They are masters at finding every little knot of muscle, and then as the grand finale, they crack all the vertebrae in your back. If you have any sort of back problem, this is probably best avoided! But otherwise, I promise it’s worth the hour of torture to feel like a brand new you.
Temple hop in Sukhothai
Sukhothai is the perfect stop over for temple lovers on their way to Chiang Mai. The main attraction is the historical park, which contains the ruins of the original city that was once the capital of Thailand. I spent a very pleasant day here cycling around the various temples, and it was the most peaceful place with hardly any crowds. Most people go to the other temple town, Ayutthaya, but in my opinion it was too busy and difficult to travel between the temples. If you don’t have time for either, don’t worry, because Chiang Mai is also a great place to temple hop.
Elephant temple in Sukhothai
Chilling out at Pai Hot Springs Resort
Escape to Pai
Pai is a small town tucked away in the mountains in Northern Thailand. It’s the ultimate hippy getaway for a backpacker, and I met so many people who had been there for weeks and just couldn’t bring themselves to leave. It’s not hard to see why - the atmosphere is so relaxed and there is a surprising amount of activities to keep you occupied. I learnt how to ride a scooter here, as it’s really the only way to get around and explore the countryside. Whilst riding around, I stumbled across a resort with hot springs and a pool, where you could pay just $5 to hang out all day! There are also caves, temples, and a huge Buddha statue on a hill (the sunset views here are incredible!). Or, if you’re the lazy type, it’s easy to spend days exploring the cafes and bars dotted around the town. My favourite was a jazz bar that served the best fruit mojitos ever - I could quite happily spend days there lounging in a hammock!
Relax in Chiang Mai
I’m sure lots of people will disagree with me, but I didn’t enjoy Bangkok at all. It was too busy, hot and smelly, but I did visit in a heat wave so maybe it’s not usually so terrible. Chiang Mai was a breath of fresh air after Bangkok. It’s easily the most relaxed and calm city I have been to in Asia, and five days just wasn’t long enough. I spent most of my time there wandering around the old city, eating delicious food, exploring vintage shops, and visiting temples. It’s quite hard to explain exactly why I loved it so much, but it just felt like home. I’m going back in December and part of me thinks that I might not leave this time!
Trek in Khao Yai National Park
One of my main aspirations whilst travelling was to see as much nature as possible, so one of the first things I booked in Thailand was a one and a half day tour of Khao Yai National Park. The first part of the tour was an evening trek in the park with an awesome guide who was extremely knowledgeable about Thai nature. He caught a snake for me to a hold, and the creepiest looking spider ever, which I hesitantly allowed him to put in my hand! The grand finale of the tour was watching two million bats leave their roost to go hunting, which as you can imagine was simply breath-taking. The second day was spent driving around the park in search of some wild elephants. For a large creature, they are very good at hiding and we only managed to find one at the end of the day. It was still amazing, and we also got to see plenty of other wildlife including gibbons, crocodiles, macaques, and a toucan! The experience really taught me how incredibly lucky we are when we get to see animals in their natural habitat, and how increasingly difficult it’s becoming.
Just an extremely poisonous snake hanging out in a tree, no big deal!
I think he wanted a ride home!
Diving in Koh Tao
Unfortunately, this isn’t something I got to experience myself as I ran out of time, but everyone I met on my trip highly recommended it. It’s one of the cheapest places in the world to learn how to dive, and the island itself is very laid-back compared to the other islands in the South. You can do your PADI certification here for under $300, which is super cheap, and there are plenty of dive sites to explore. Once you have your qualification, you can use it all around the world, so it’s definitely worth the investment!
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