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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo Post 1: Little girl carrying her baby brother, Karen Hill Tribe

This might be my favorite photo of my entire Thailand trip. In one of my trek posts, I mentioned the big hill climb up to the Karen Hill Tribe village.  The morning we departed, this 5-year old girl was walking up the steep, long hill with the umbrella in one hand shielding her 2-week old brother whom she was carrying in her other.

little girl with baby
Big sister

She wasn’t alone. Her mom was by  her side.

Karen hill tribe girl carrying litte bro and Mom

Mae Wang Trek: Karen Hill Tribe Homestay

It’s only appropriate that there be a rather long, steep climb into the village of the Karen Hill Tribe. It is here that we joined in a family’s dinner preparations, enjoyed a sumptuous feast and spent the night in a bamboo hut.

Since 1949, the Karen people have been migrating to Thailand from Myanmar due to conflicts with the Burmese government. Approximately 400,000 Karen have made Northern Thailand their home. Their villages are scattered through the mountain and lowland regions bordering Myanmar. You’ll notice some of the women in the pictures wearing their traditional colorful, embroidered smocks and skirts. This is what married women wear; single girls wear white frocks. We did not see any as the younger generation has gotten away from this and other traditions.  Now, they only wear white on Sundays, In these villages, most marry by their early twenties and traditionally it’s the mothers who chose their children’s spouses. This is still true for ~50% percent of marriages though for some it’s a choice the child makes with his / her mother. Our guide, Tui, is Karen and he and his mother will agree on his future wife.

The village where we stayed has had electricity for about a year. It’s fairly limited though with a lightbulb here and there. Some homes are open air huts, others are concrete with tile roofs. It’s a place in transition. The people are warm and friendly. Every house has a pig, several chickens, roosters, dogs, and a wealthy few have cattle too. All seem to cohabit peacefully with the exception of the flash dog fight over scraps.

Speaking of cohabitate, in a village of 130 people, 4 religions are peacefully represented: Animism (an ancient belief system before organized religion that non-human entities—such as animals, plants, and inanimate objects—possess a spiritual essence) Buddhism, Christianity, and Catholicism.

Food preparation is arduous and everyone lends a hand. Multiple dishes with multiple ingredients are made in a wok using just 1 fire source.

Famished from our full day (~2 hour bike, 3.5 hour hike), we relished this royal feast! (It included a pumpkin, garlic dish, curry potatoes and chicken, a scallion and veggie dish – oh my!)

We slept well that night!

Next up, I will share some of my favorite pics!

Mae Wang 3 Day Bike & Trek: Day 1 Cont…

So after a steep climb up a dirt road towards the end of our 3 and a half hour hike, we turned a corner into this elephant sanctuary. It was a complete bonus surprise -not mentioned in the trek description or foreshadowed by our guide.

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Giddy from these new sights, I was energized to make the last push up the steep, long hill to the  village.  The plan was to participate in the communal food preparation and then spend the night with a family of the Karen Hill Tribe…To be continued…

Mae Wang Bike & Trek Day 1

Tour company: Green Trails    Guide: Tui   My rating: Excellent, highly recommend

After lunch, we drove another hour climbing steadily North alongside a river and happy Songkran celebrants young and old. (Thai New Year Festival is April 13-15.)  Songkran traditions include visiting local temples and offering food to the Buddhist monks and drizzling water on Buddha statues. This water ritual symbolizes the cleansing of one’s sins and bad luck. Paying reverence to ancestors and returning home are also an important part of the Songkran tradition.

The holiday is perhaps best known for its water festival, which is mostly celebrated by the young and young at heart. Basically, it’s a countrywide, good natured water fight.

Traveling in the back of a tourist transport truck we were sitting ducks for playful ambush by hoses, buckets and hopped up water guns from both sides of the road and passing trucks. Unfortunately, I don’t have any pics of this as I didn’t have a waterproof case for my camera. (I do have one for my cell phone so I will try to capture some of the fun  upon return to Chiang Mai.)

We started trekking in the heat of the day. (About 103 F.) My travel buddy Walter and I were on a “join in” tour, but no one else joined so it was our private tour. We didn’t see any other foreigners until the end of the last day.

It was a hot, dry, upward slog. Far drier and a bit scrappier of a trail than I’d imagined. Of course,  April is the hottest and driest month of the year. How hot was it? So hot there were no mosquitoes even along the stream that we followed up to a waterfall. Ahh, what a refreshing reward at the halfway point and an our first  introduction to a couple of Karen tribesmen.

Some of my favorite pics of today’s trek are these of a local at the waterfall and a farmer and his ranch. The crop is peanuts, rotating from rice. I’m using my new Nikkon D3400 for most of these. (My first “real” camera.) Can you tell the difference?

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What an incredible experience this is! Up a hill and around the corner, an unexpected surprise…to be continued

Mae Wang 3 Day Bike & Trek Adventure: Bike Portion

Tour company: Green Trails           My rating: Excellent, highly recommend

Cycling level: Easy (While this was pitched as a half day tour it is very slow paced and doesn’t cover that much ground, but it is followed by 3 hours of moderately tough hiking in tropical heat so it’s a nice warm up.

Trekking level: Moderate++

Guide: Tui (Interesting fact, our guide does many different types of tours, and took Anthony Bourdain on a street food tour of Chang Mai. Hey Anthony, you missed out because Tui is also an incredible chef. He made us a couple of incredible dinner feasts in the mountain villages of the Karen Hill tribe. Video, pics and posts to follow.

8AM Our tour guide picked us up at our hotel in Change Mai. We loaded up and jumped into the back of the truck. (A bit rough and tired, but excited to embark.)

^en routeNotice the sky in this picture? So much for fresh mountain air. My first impression upon arriving at the airport in Chang Mai was “YIKES”. I haven’t seen smog as bad as this in a while. I was hoping it wouldn’t be like this in Mae Wang where we were heading. My second impression was hey, I thought it was supposed to be cooler here than Bangkok.

9:30  We  started our adventure cycling dirt and narrow concrete roads through the rural lowlands, passing seldom visited Lanna style temples and various agricultural fields. We also stopped at paper making factory that was closed for the holiday. We were saw some of the materials they use mulberry trees pulp and the vats they use with natural dyes. Just had my cell phone on me for this portion. Wish I’d taken more photos en route, but I was in a bit of jet lag fog. Lots of great photos of the trek and tribe experience to come.

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We hopped back into the truck after our ride and headed further north into the mountains, stopping for a savory and sumptuous lunch (chicken and pork dishes) and supplies at a local market.

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Stay tuned for the trekking portion. It was AMAZING!