My “Best of Thailand” Recap

What an amazing whirlwind month it was! So many incredible sights, sounds, tastes and experiences, definitely one of my top trips. Highly recommend Thailand as a destination. If you’re thinking about it, do it! My blog covers all the places I went and most of my activities – just use the search tool to get the scoop on the areas that interest you or do a browse and select Thailand for an overview of all the posts. There’s plenty more to see and explore there, but this was all I could pack into my trip. Let me know what spot is your favorite so I can check it out next time. If you have any questions, just send me a note.

Where I went

Bangkok

Chiang Mai

Mae Wang

Chiang Dao

Thaton

Chang Rai

Sukhothai

Ayutthaya

Koh Samui

Koh Phangan

Railay, Krabi

Phuket

What I did

These are my top picks from my month-long adventures

Best active tours: ActiveThailand

Best beach with restaurants, live music & mellow nightlife: Chaloklum Bay, Koh Samui

Best beach resort:  White House, Koh Samui

Best experience: Trekking and mountain biking remote areas of northern Thailand and homestaying with the Karen Hill Tribe

Best food: Chiang Dao Restaurant near the cave  – Chicken Tumeric, Chiang Mai & Bangkok Street Food – pork on a stick

Best health & Fitness Resort: Thanyapura Health & Sports Resort See post.

Best nature preserve island: Naugyuan

Best ruins: Sukkhothai

Best scenery: Railay, Krabi

Best town: Thaton

Best view from the room: Cocohut Beach Resort & Spa, Koh Phangan

Best wildlife: Railay, Krabi

 

Here are some scenes from my last night in Thailand, near the Bangkok airport:

 

Tip: The Paragon Inn is a basic, but decent airport hotel. It’s minutes from the airport and walking distance from the mall and street market. Super convenient for getting those last minute gifts and for catching those early AM flights.

 

 

Can’t emphasize enough how easy and inexpensive it is to tour around Thailand and have an exceptional time.  I’ll share more about what makes it so easy in an upcoming blog post.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Koh Samui: Highlights, Tips & Top Pick White House Resort & Spa

First impression of Koh Samui, not so good. Fortunately, as you’ll see, it got better after a little trial and error.

Drove several miles through areas that make Honolulu seem rural…It was so congested with buildings, bars and cheap tourist shops that you couldn’t see through to the beaches. Young tourists and aging Caucasian derelicts from all over the world were running amok, boozing it up and smoking in the heat of the day. Yup, major turn off.

A dozen or so miles beyond the airport, things improved, beaches became visible and I let out a sigh of relief. (Perhaps too soon.)  I happily paid ahead and checked into what appeared to be a lovely resort on the beach. While the hotel was well appointed, as picturesque as the beach was, I found out too late that the beach was not “functional”. Too short and rocky for walking or running and too coral filled and prone to low tides for swimming. I wanted out, but there was no refund coming so I made the best of my stay there. I took one of their free kayaks for a tour around to Lamai Beach, a more desirable area.

TIP: Learn from my mistake. Never pay ahead until you have thoroughly checked the place out.

TIP: Given the tides and the coral situation it can be difficult to find a swim-able beach in the islands. If that’s important to you, do your research.

Ok, don’t mean to whine,  it wasn’t terrible, just disappointing. I did enjoy their great view and a lovely breakfast.

 

Rented a scooter to scout the island for a better spot for the next two nights.

Discovered the Na Muang waterfall along with the rest of the crowd whom I somehow managed to edit out of the picture.

Na Muang Waterfall DescriptionNa Muang Waterfall

TIP: Go early and on a weekday to avoid the crowds.

Apologies on the video quality – I’ll get better…

 

Found a great spot, the White House Beach Resort and Spa. It was one of my favorites during my 30 day journey around Thailand. Staff was gracious; room was spacious. Tropical setting with an old world vibe, the resort is a peaceful paradise in a great location. At night, you can enjoy mellow live music down the beach and you have your pick of romantic beach-side dining. There’s a nice village feel with a handful of restaurants and excellent, inexpensive massage ($9 an hour)  right across the street. And it’s a great spot for your activity hub, as there are many tours and excursions you can join. (See my Tale of Two Snorkels post.)

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TIP: Book excursions direct from the tour places along the street – the hotel adds a significant surcharge.

Friendly felines and pooches make you feel at home. Gym is limited, small and not air conditioned. The most hilarious thing to me is that they have a sauna that costs $12 an hour. Who the heck takes sauna’s in this kind of tropical heat? All you have to do is go into the gym and sweat it out for free-lol!  Pool is on the small side, but I spent all my time in the the dazzling turquoise waters. Breakfast buffet is quite good too and the view can’t be beat. The beach is lovely and the resort is enchanting! I’d come back any day. Today would be good. : )

 

 

Next stop, take a walk on the wilder side with me to Koh Phanang, home to the infamous full moon party and the Cocohut Beach Resort.

 

 

 

Koh Phangan: Take a Walk on the Wild Side

Yes, Koh Phangan is home to the infamous Full Moon Beach Party, but it also one of the more unspoiled islands in the Gulf of Thailand in southeast Thailand’s Surat Thani Province. Ngan means “sand bar” and refers to the many offshore sand bars. What makes Koh Phangan wild (other than when the party scene is on) is that the island’s interior is comprised of more than 31 sq mi of relatively unspoiled rain forest.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough time for rain forest explorations, but I was able to make it around the island on scooter to see some gorgeous countryside and a couple bewitching beaches. The vibe here is very laid back; it feels a bit like Hawaii.

Arrival views from ferry:

Below is the view from my hotel room, the Cocohut Beach Resort & Spa  –  top pick post to come. (Great value, great spot!)

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(Disclaimer, it’s not a walk on the wild side as the title suggests, but I do give ya a little video tour of one of the wilder islands.)

 

 

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The best mango sticky rice & view to enjoy while devouring it! Anatara Resort Area.

 

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And after a day of explorations, the view to enjoy with a refreshing cocktail in hand.

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Living the Pura Vida: Thanyapura Health & Sports Resort Phuket, Thailand

(Disclaimer: I know I’m mixing Costa Rican and Thai cultures with my title, but it really does capture the gist of this post as I hope you’ll see.)

For the past 3 weeks I’ve been on the move, touring around Thailand (Bangkok, Mae Wang, Chiang Mai, Chiang Dao, Thaton, Chiang Rai, Sukhothai, Aruythaya, Koh Samui, Nangyaun Island, Koh Pranang, and Railay, Krabi). I’ve journeyed by plane, bus, minivan, taxi, ferry, long tail boat, mountain bike and foot – sometimes nearly all modes in 1 day. I’ve roughed it trekking and biking in the mountains, and also luxuriated at some 5 star resorts along the way. Eating my way through Thailand as I have been, I’ve enjoyed: Karen Hill Tribe home cooked meals, the famous Chiang Mai night market street food, a bounty of breakfast buffets, and a sampling of resort food. After all my adventures and explorations, I decided to spend my final week here in one spot the active paradise of Thanyapura Health & Sports Resort in Phuket. While I won’t be on the move, I will be maximizing my body’s movement every day. As an endurance athlete and a personal trainer, I thrive on active vacations. While I’ve been relatively active over the past 21 days (3 day trek, 3 day mountain bike trip, ocean swims, snorkels, walkabouts and hotel gym workouts), I’ve missed my  focused training. 

 One of my greatest pleasures in life is relishing vigorous activity and the rewards that follow both psychological and physical. Balancing all the activity with some quality pampering is essential as well. Pampering may be as simple as a big nap, a hot shower, an ice bath, a massage, a great meal or any combination of them. It’s about revitalizing, nourishing and recuperating. Here at Thanyapura Health & Sports Resort, they have it all covered and then some.

Thanyapura Health & Sports Resort is the place triathletes, national swim teams (German, French, Hungarian, British and Royal Dutch to name a few), tennis players and athletes of all types train.

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Team workout in the 50M pool. I had it to myself in the mornings.

Thanyapura Health &  Sports Resort

• 50m Olympic pool, 25m training pool & hotel pool  • 6 Tennis Courts (4 covered)

• Beach Volleyball Court • Beach Soccer Court  • 500m Track • Muay Thai Ring

•Two 900sqm Gyms (cardio & weights)  • Cannondale Road Bike Rentals

 

 

It’s where active people from all around the world come to optimize their potential and have fun while doing so. But you don’t have to be a rock star or elite athlete to be here, though you might run into one. There’s something for everyone as active or relaxed as you want to be. There’s tennis, swimming, cycling, running, group fitness, Muay Thai, yoga, meditation, cooking classes, a full service spa, and so much more. There’s a Center for Wellness and Mindfulness, onsite medical services, chiropractor and talks by experts. Thanyapura Health & Sports Resort is the place for anyone who wants to reset their bodies and minds with a detox, get inspired with 1:1 coaching on living a healthy lifestyle, train like a demon, transform their life, or just chill out, disconnect and enjoy the resort’s many amenities.  

Day 1

After a 6 hour travel day, I arrived at 2:30 PM to a friendly reception and a refreshing glass of some deep periwinkle blue elixir.  Once in my luxurious room, I quickly showered and changed for my first group fitness class.

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My lovely room. My sanctuary.

I wanted to make the most of my first afternoon so I took a 3 PM Pilates class, a 4 PM high intensity training class and a 5PM boot camp class. I might have overreached on the back-to-back classes, but I didn’t want to miss out. Eh, no more pushups, please.

Day 2

I jumped in the van with the triathlon training group for an early morning open water swim at lovely Laguna Beach. After a half dozen or so laps around the buoys with some drills mixed in, we returned appetites fueled in time to enjoy the sumptuous breakfast buffet. Lavish and predominantly healthy choices ranging from breakfast foods to abundant colorful salads and savory traditional meat dishes are available 6:30AM until mid morning.

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I made breakfast my primary meal while I was there. Not a bad habit to carry over. While the buffet did include waffles and a couple other sweet indulgences, I wasn’t really tempted. With so many wonderful tasting, healthy options, it was easy to steer clear. Plus the fruit is so sweet. (Ok, I admit I did have the mango and sticky coconut rice desert one night and it was as good as it looks.) Thai mangoes are AMAZING!

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Fresh mango and coconut sticky rice – so dreamy!

And I will also confess that one night I decided to indulge and selected an alluring chocolate cake that was topped with glistening pomegranate seeds from the display at the Booster Cafe. Well, the joke was on me. I took one big bite and discovered that it was zucchini cake cleverly disguised as chocolate cake. It wasn’t bad, but I did have to get the real thing the next day. Surprisingly, after a month in Thailand without eating much chocolate, this chocolate fiend didn’t even finish the piece of actual chocolate cake. Lost my taste for it? Let’s hope so.

Between 11 AM and 2 PM is relaxation time, private coaching or gym time. I used this time to catch up on my blog posts and recuperate from my morning workout(s).  In the afternoon, I attended Hip Opening Yoga, contorting my body and stretching my limits for greater fitness and flexibility. After that, I put gloves and shin guards on and mixed it up with the Muay Thai Boxing coachfirst time, fun time. Next, I enjoyed a peaceful, tropical sunset swim in the 50 meter pool. I dined at Booster Deli & Bar, relishing a beautifully composed grilled tuna salad.

 If I could eat this well every day, it would be an incredible boost to my quality of life and health.

Day 3

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Great carbon Cannondale rental. Unfortunately, I forgot my bike shoes.

Today, I rented a fine Cannondale carbon road bike and joined the triathlon training group for a mellow 50k ride through the gorgeous green countryside.

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You wouldn’t expect it, at least I didn’t, but the road conditions here are excellentsmooth and mostly empty back roads―lovely, but a bit steamy. (I chose the hottest month of the year to visit Thailand.) I’m accustomed to San Diego weather so it’s a bit of an adjustment, but I do feel I’m making some gains training here.

After a couple hours of downtime, I attended Guided Meditation and Yin Yoga in the afternoon. Pierre Gagnon, the Meditation and Mind Training Coach, has a way of explaining and teaching meditation that makes it accessible and practical for athletes. I gained insights about the mind-body connection and enjoyed applying his down-to-earth approach to meditation. (See my personal training blog for those insights and why I believe meditation is a must for all of us, especially athletes.)

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Mind Training & Meditation Coach Pierre

 I found out the hard way that Yin Yoga is the practice of holding the pose / stretch for long periods of time. This involves the collision of discomfort and stillness. (As athletes, we’re used to moving through pain, sometimes to our detriment.) This is something new – to endure discomfort in stillness and to use your breath and mind to dissipate and overcome it. I’ve got a long way to go on this one…

Enjoyed some Thanyapura style Pad Thai tonight.

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Day 4

Marking the midway of my active stay, I dialed it down today with a pool swim in the morning and a Guided Meditation class in the afternoon. Felt so mellow after meditation that I dined early and closed the day with a sunset stroll up the road to Khao Phra Thaeo National Park. A lovely citrus salad (mango, orange, avocado, walnuts, and sprinkling of pomegranate seeds) was the day’s flavor finale.

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Day 5

Started my morning with a swim, followed by a step toning class and a stretch class. In the afternoon, I attended Guided Meditation. I’m balancing my physical and mental fitness. Stopped in the gym very briefly before retiring for the evening.

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Day 6

Greeted another day with a short morning swim, followed by an easy scenic 40k bike with the Senior Cycling Coach Daniel Amby, a semi-pro who just returned from some crazy 5 stage bike race with 23% grade hills in triple digit heat! Even under those extreme conditions, he made it to the podium 3x out of 5! I’m clearly in the presence of immortals here. My afternoon was filled with meditation, yoga and a swim technique class. Enjoyed being lulled by the downpour during two thunder stormsthe green/ rainy season has officially arrived. Dined at Divine restaurant with my new friend Jade, a young triathlete I cycled with on Monday. Devoured many delectable items on the dinner buffet. Very hungry today!

 

Day 7

The day began on the bike with Coach Daniel and a dozen fellow cyclists / triathletes ranging in age from 10 to 50 plus. Interval training included four 5k intervals (80% effort, 100% effort, big gear push, mid gear accelerate 30 secs on / off). Humbled to say, I got my butt kicked by a ten year old. I have all sorts of excuses – rental bike, running shoes, not used to heat/humidity, she only did 2 intervals, let’s see else can I come up with? She kicks butt, mine included –no doubt one of Thanyapura’s many rising stars. 

This afternoon, more yoga. (I’m afraid sweet, angelic voiced  Yoga Coach Pascha  was up to her usual tricks and twists in the yoga studio.) Practicing with Pascha has helped me become more aware of my muscle imbalances, posture and breathing. It becomes very apparent how short, tight muscles sabotage performance and make you more susceptible to injury …

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Pascha, my yoga guru

 

I’ve learned a great deal about the importance of the soft, long exhale from both Coach Pascha and Coach Pierre 

Swim technique class with Triathlon Head Coach Ricky was also illuminating for me. Among other drills, we practiced 1 arm stroke, side kicking, catch-up and fist swimming–somehow the combination of them had me swimming freestyle with more awareness of gliding on my side.

Day 8
Winding down for tomorrow’s departure. A morning swim, followed by an energizing breakfast (raw carrot pasta, rocket salad and beet salad), fresh fruit and guava juice. (And yes, I had more than 1 helping.)

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As with my first afternoon, I packed everything I could into my last morning. Guided meditation with Coach Pierre, step toning with a dashing Thai gentleman who would kick butt on dancing with the stars, a final yoga session with Pascha and a quick farewell lunch with my new friend Jade. When I said my goodbyes to Pascha and Pierre, I felt like I was graduating from school, leaving my wise instructors behind and setting off into the world.

Immersing myself in meditation, yoga and healthy eating at Thanyapura Health & Sports Resort was transformative for me. Despite being a personal trainer, I’m someone who has spent a lifetime relentlessly pursuing endurance sports and intense workouts without the balance of restorative yoga, stretching or optimal nutrition. Standing in the line at the Phuket airport, I had an epiphany. I couldn’t remember the last time I had a negative or judgmental thought—apparently another benefit of mind body balance and heightened awareness achieved through meditation and yoga and spending time in Thailand at Thanyapura Health & Sports Resort. When I return home, I will carry forward my practices, share the insights I gained and spread the word of Thanyapura. Thank you and Nameste.

 

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Oh, I’m already missing this magical place. Photo credit Thanyapura Health & Sports Resort.

 

Kayaking Along Lamai Beach, Koh Samui

Quickly discovered that my first hotel choice was not as picture perfect as it seemed. The beach was small with no where to walk / run and with the abundant coral in the water and low tide conditions, swimming or snorkeling was impossible. Fortunately the hotel had kayaks for their guests’ use so off I went…

Apologies for my shaky video skills.

What I didn’t realize is that among the rocks over there are “Hin Ta” /Grandfather  & “Hin Yai” / Grandfather so named for their interesting shapes…See if you can identify Hin Ta in the next video freeze frame and end shot. I was so focused on kayaking and videoing, I was oblivious.

Ha Ta Hin Yai

 

Inside the Gates: Chiang Mai Sunday Night Market – a feast, a fest, a fun time!

 

The Feast

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The Fest

The Sights

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The Sounds

The Scoop

The Chiang Mai Sunday Night Market is located in the center of the old walled city area of Chiang Mai and is open from 4pm until midnight. It’s a fest and a feast down Ratchadamnoen Road, which is closed to traffic for the Market – hence the i other name Walking Street”. In the vicinity, there are many temples and historical sights to see along the way as well, including Wat Phan Tao, Wat Chedi Luang and the statues of the 3 kings.

Tip: If you’re not big on crowds go early and have a full run of it before they arrive.

The place really comes alive and has a great vibe later into the night…And there are some lovely restaurants, bars and coffee shops around every corner if you’d prefer people watching (tourists & Thai locals) from a distance or just need a break from the crowds.

There are musicians, handicrafts, souvenirs, massage chairs, and perhaps best of all, world renown street food enjoyed by Anthony Bourdain and myself. (My trekking tour guide from Green Trails gave Anthony his street food tour when he was filming in Chiang Mai. ) There’s so much to see, do, buy & eat, you can easily spend hours here.

Tip: If you see something you like as a gift or a souvenir get it and consider getting more than one. The crafts are Northern Thailand specific and you may not see them again. I bought a couple beautiful bowls and wish I’d grabbed more because in my 30 days in Thailand I never saw anything like them again.

If you’re thinking about going to the Chaing Mai Sunday Night Market, don’t think twice – go. As you can see and hear, it’s a memorable experience.

 

3 Day Mt. Bike Adventure. Part 4: Thaton to Chang Rai.

It was late afternoon by the time we rolled into Ban Thaton, a charming Thai village near the Burmese border on the bank of the Maekok river. After a quick cleanup transition, I headed out to do a little exploring on foot.

 

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Despite weary legs from my full day of mt. biking, I took a quick hike up a road to the White Buddha that I’d seen in the distance as we were coming into town. It was worth it.

 

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On the way back, I stopped in for a sorely needed hour Thai massage before dinner. (Awesome and only $6!) Had a feast at a lovely riverside restaurant that evening and enjoyed a refreshing ‘cold” one. (Not a beer drinker, but it sure hit the spot.)

 

Next day we hit the road early, biking through parts of a national park on our way to Chiang Rai. What an incredible 3 day Mt. Bike adventure.

Our last lunch stop was superb!

 

Sad that it had to end. Many thanks to my guide Pan & support driver Som at Active Thailand!

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Tour company: ActiveThailand    Guide: Pan   My rating: Excellent, highly recommend