Thailand

Guide: Twirling Through South East Asia

South East Asia is a magnet for backpackers and for good reason. It’s very cost effective; your budget doesn’t need to be royal to be treated like royalty. It’s full of fascinating places that can keep you occupied for months. It’s easy to get around with a strong network of buses. And lastly, it’s surprisingly approachable as there is a strongly developed tourism industry that caters to English speakers. We spent 100 days moving through the region focusing on mostly the four mainland destinations of Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos and we absolutely loved it. To help others plan their south east asia trip, we have put together this sample itenerary which captures a number of highlights (we aren’t arrogant to claim that you’ll see all the highlights as everyone has a different opinion) and included our budget numbers and other helpful tips on getting the most out of your south east asia experience. While you could do this trip in 45 days or so, you would be moving at just an incredibly frantic pace. We would suggest something closer to what we did (around 75 days or so) is the minimum you need to do something like this. More time is certainly a bonus and would not be wasted. Where To Go: A Visual Walk Through Want to see our full destination list? Expand to see more --> When To Go We visited the region between November and February which is the driest time and in our minds, the best. Most of the places we visited would be considered warm to hot at that time of year with the one...

Travel Budget: Thailand by the Numbers

$38.00 US a day gets you more than you could imagine in Thailand including an elephant nature park tour, cooking classes in Chiang Mai, a five day luxury retreat to Koh Chang, sun bathing in Phuket and more.

All I Really Need to Know I Learned From a Tree in Chiang Mai

I used to own a poster with Robert Fulghum’s essay: [amazon_link id=”034546639X” target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten[/amazon_link]. If you’ve never read it before, it is a cute piece which explains that all one needs to know about how to be and live are the basic rules we learned on the playground. I was reminded of Fulghum’s whimsical piece when we encountered signs with Buddhist teachings all over the trees on the grounds of temples in Chiang Mai. We spent a fun afternoon running around snapping pictures of all of them. Of all the signs we encountered, my personal favourite is: “Today is better than two tomorrows.” It sums up why we’re travelling the world and reminds us to appreciate every day. The signs are simple one liners, and some have grammatical and spelling issues, but I think they’re charming. And they’re basically all one really needs to know about how to be and live. Which is your favourite...

Me and a Dead Boy Get a Haircut in Ayutthaya

After almost three months on the road, I finally got a haircut in Ayutthaya. I had been meaning to do it in Laos – really just to be able to say that I had a haircut in Laos – but the opportunity never really came up. Then finally on our third day in Ayutthaya (and certainly the most laid back of the three days we spent there), we came across a hair dresser in the market that didn’t look busy which was perfect since I hate waiting to get my hair cut. For some strange but appropriate reason, the hair dresser is a non-English speaking – and I mean none – transgender woman. First thought: “This is a better story than Laos already”. I sit down and roll the dice. She starts off pretty timidly which is funny cause I really couldn’t care much about my hair and it was obvious she was worried about the lack of direction I was giving. I try and make some hand wavy gestures about a part and smile reassuringly. She seems to gain more confidence as it goes on. As she is cutting my hair, in walks a woman and cradled in her arms is what looks like a baby’s corpse. Ok, so it wasn’t dead. But the boy – maybe three years old – looked so comatose that my initial thought was “Cool, this place is both a hair salon AND an emergency ward cause that boy is DEAD!” To my amazement, the woman sits down in the chair next to mine and the second barber starts to shave the boys...

Close Encounters of the Elephant Kind

Riding an elephant is an experience that few travellers can resist. Throughout our travels in South East Asia, we were sorely tempted by the many elephant safaris and mahout experiences on offer. The pictures are extremely enticing. Smiling tourists atop majestic elephants trekking through lush jungles, back-dropped by tumbling waterfalls. The scenery combined with the opportunity to get up close and personal with one of nature’s most beautiful and noble creatures is almost irresistible. The flip side of this image is the often brutal and inhumane treatment these animals receive in their training. Watching an elephant paint another elephant on YouTube is cute but the path taken to reach such a skill would make any reasonable person turn away in disgust. The truth is, elephants are big business in Thailand. Making sure we contributed to the right people and in the right way took priority over all else when we were looking for our elephant experience. After some searching, we settled on the Elephant Nature Park. The Park is an elephant rescue and rehabilitation centre founded by an amazing woman named Lek and her husband Adam in 1996. Since opening, she has rescued dozens of elephants who have suffered from abuse, outlived their usefulness to their owners, or been injured on the job. Reading the many glowing reviews of the park, it seemed like just the kind of place we were looking for. We weren’t disappointed If you’ve ever wondered if one person can make a difference, the Elephant Nature Park is the place to get inspired. The Park is situated in a beautiful valley, surrounded by green mountains...

The Wrong Way to Get To Chiang Rai

There are four ways to get from Luang Prabang, Laos to Chiang Rai, Thailand.  First, you can fly to Chiang Mai and double back.  But it’s expensive and generally we avoid flights if not over water.  Second, you can take the slow boat up the Mekong.  It takes two days to the border and you need to pack your own food but it gets you there.  Eventually.  Third you can strap yourself in with crash helmet firmly on to a speed boat and hope you don’t hit anything.  It’s loud and tiresome but it will get you to the border faster than the slow boat can.  Lastly, you can take a VIP bus overnight to the border and bus it into town from there.  We opted for the last option and took the 7pm VIP bus. Bad idea. As I jammed my legs against the back of the seat ahead of me, it was quickly made clear to me that I was simply too big for the bus.  Even Susana who is not tall in particular but not short either, was having trouble.  As we pulled out of the terminal a little after 7pm, I knew we had made a mistake. Being a non sleeper bus meant I was going to have to sleep sitting up.  Given how ridgidly I was sitting, my head was more than a stretch away from any resting cushion.  I tried every option including turning my body sideways in the seat and switching chairs with Susana.  Nothing worked.  All that was accomplished was to thrash and cause trouble for the passengers that were sitting...

The Buddha Images of Bangkok

One of the pleasures of traveling through Thailand is to experience the art and various temples of Buddhist faith. Less common in the West, Buddhism is very popular in Thailand and one great place to take it all in is Bangkok. Having two days before we moved on to Cambodia, we took in as much as we could. We will be back for a longer stay in February but for now, two days would have to do. Reclining Buddha Our first stop was the reclining Buddha. A Titan of a statue, it is basically impossible for any photograph to do this statue justice. Between the columns of the housing building you can snap pictures or try to capture its length from either down from the head or more popular from the feet looking up. In either case, the pictures just don’t do it justice. To give you a sense of the size here, the smile of the Buddha is measures at 5 meters long. Now that is one big Buddha. Also, it’s a beautiful statue in that it shows the Buddha smiling. While I enjoy the serene calm appearance you often get in the sitting Buddha statues, the smile of this reclining Buddha appears quite natural and authentic. It is said this statue portrays the moment of Buddha entering Nirvana. Here, I would believe it. From Reclining Buddha Emerald Buddha In the royal palace you will find the emerald Buddha. It is actually Jade but the original story of the discovery and the initial impression of the Buddha face, peeking out from beneath its plaster encasing, as being made...

Bangkok To Siem Reap by Land

The trip from Bangkok to Siem Reap is a classic backpacker trip full of tribal history and stories that defy belief.  The border crossing has long been know as a landmine field of scams and the road from Poipet to Siem Reap is infamous for bus sized pot holes and violently aggressive taxi drivers looking to make a buck at every opportunity, including extorting passengers for gas money, extra fare to go to their original destination and so forth.  Today, much of that has improved. The biggest change is in the infrastructure.  The road from Poipet to Siem Reap is now fully paved and in great condition.  Gone are the days of horror stories and 12 hour trips.  It’s now a modern paved highway that can be done in 1.5 hours with no stops. The second change is the strong arm of the Poipet bus station.  According to many sources, the bus station and taxi fares are kept artificially high by a travel monopoly.  This may very well be true but the result is a safe and clear path from Poipet to Siem Reap is now possible, if at an inflated price of $48/taxi (note that a taxi takes 4 people). Lastly, the border guards in Cambodia do not seem to be as profiteering as in the past. All this is not to say there aren’t scams to watch out for.  But it’s gotten much better. Here’s how we crossed. Get to the Northern Bus Station in Bangkok Whatever you do, Do NOT book a ticket on one of the many Bangkok – Siem Reap private transports advertised by...

5 Reasons You Should Love Street Festivals

While we were in Khao Lak, there was a local festival on.  It took over half of the main street and included probably close to 100 food, tour and art stalls.  It had two main stages showing on one some local dance and on the other the Khao Lak 2011 beauty pageant.  Local festivals are fantastic, especially for travelers.  Here are 5 reasons you should always make an effort to get to local festivals. From Street Festival in Khao Lak   They are authentic In almost all cases – with the exception of some backpacker organized events such as full moon parties in Thailand – these festivals are put on for locals.  This means that they are authentic entertainment that’s almost certainly local in nature.  This gives you an unbiased perspective on local life and tastes.  Don’t be surprised if it doesn’t exactly match up with what you would expect either. From Street Festival in Khao Lak They are usually very inexpensive Because these festivals are for locals, they are usually priced in local prices.  As a tourist, you are probably used to being targeted by tourist prices.  Local festivals are different and you’ll almost never experience a tourist price hike. From Street Festival in Khao Lak They usually have great local food One of the best places to eat is at local markets or festivals.  They usually offer wide ranges of sampler food that’s made for local consumption.  If you are like us and enjoy food prepared for local taste buds ( I hate it when Thai food is called “western spicy” for example), then you will love...