I was looking forward to my first trip overseas all year and I chose Thailand! I picked Thailand because I wanted to step out of my comfort zone and immerse myself into a completely different culture so I could grow as an individual. I wanted to try new food and practice a new language. I wanted to experience adventure, enjoy mother nature, and relax and grow spiritually.
Thailand had all these characteristics, and the U.S. dollar goes a long way!
“Travel is not really about leaving our homes, but leaving our habits.” – Anonymous
Chiang Mai, Thailand
I spent six days in Chiang Mai, Thailand’s fifth largest city, located in the northern area, and home to over 300 Buddhist temples. I recommend staying in Old City because it’s easier to navigate and there are a lot of things to do nearby. I stayed in a boutique hotel called Le Pure, and they had a friendly staff and a tasty, free buffet-style breakfast every morning. (Make sure to try kow soy, Chiang Mai’s signature dish!)
I strongly suggest renting your own scooter for only $6 per day, and avoid tuk-tuks (three-wheeled, motorcycle-like vehicles) because they tend to overcharge. Red pick-up trucks are also used as public transportation, in case you don’t rent a scooter and get tired of walking. Drivers don’t always speak English, so make sure to know exactly where you’re going. Also, one simple word…bargain!
Bua Thong Sticky Waterfalls:
The Bua Thong Sticky Waterfalls is truly a unique adventure! It took about an hour and 15 minutes on a scooter to get there from Old City, and it was well worth it! Not to mention there are huge, colorful butterflies you’ll see along the drive. I wore my water shoes and bathing suit underneath my clothes, and packed a backpack with bottled water, snacks, a towel, and bug repellant (although I didn’t get bit, it was better to be safe than sorry!).
It’s known as Sticky Waterfalls because the cream-colored bulbous rocks are coated with mineral deposit, giving it a gritty texture that allows you to climb up the cascading waters. There are five levels you can climb, and you can admire the jungle around you once you reach the top.
Thai Farm Cooking School: I booked this all-day cooking class ahead of time and I wanted to secure my spot at this particular school because it’s located outside on their own organic farm about an hour away from Old City. Classes usually consist of 10 people.
Our instructor, Kim, took our class to a local market where she taught us about different spices, vegetables, oils, coconut milk, rice, and vegan alternatives.
Then we headed to the organic farm, where we put on our farmer straw hats and red aprons, and picked our own produce.
We chose what we wanted to cook from the menu above. I chose yellow curry, tom kha soup, veggie stir fry cashew nuts, spring rolls with dipping sauce, and mango sticky rice. Everything is made from scratch, including the curry paste, using a pestle and mortar.
Words can’t explain how delicious everything was. Be prepared to eat all day and take leftovers back to the hotel along with a cookbook.
Elephant Jungle Sanctuary:
Visiting an elephant sanctuary has been on my bucket list for years. It was important for me to visit a real sanctuary because I do not support elephant riding. There are two real sanctuaries I came across in Chiang Mai and I chose this one because it’s newer and not as busy, allowing more one-on-one time with the elephants.
Elephant Jungle Sanctuary opened three years ago with only three elephants, and now they have 82. These elephants have been saved from abusive owners and labor. The spine of an elephant is not intended to carry any weight, especially humans.
I fed, played, mud bathed, and rinsed these happy elephants.
Did you know elephants are super emotional and have an incredible memory? They can suffer from post-traumatic stress and can die from a broken heart.
Temple Hopping: Chiang Mai is home to over 300 Buddhist temples. Some offer monk chat programs where you can chat with monks and learn about their beliefs. The temples display traditional architecture and a lot of gold.
I spent an entire afternoon temple hopping. I honestly wouldn’t be able to name them all because there were so many. However, these are some I noted specifically: Wat Chedi Luang, Wat Phra Singh, and Wat Chiang Man, which are the three oldest temples. Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is on a mountain with an incredible panoramic city view. Wat Umong is outside of the city in the jungle. Wat Jet Yot, Wat Suan Dok, and Wat Phan Tao were also on my list. (Travel tip: Remember to dress appropriately, with your shoulders and knees covered when visiting the temples.)
Shopping Nights: Become overwhelmed with hundreds of shopping and food stands selling a variety of things perfect for souvenirs. Remember you can bargain about the prices as well. The Night Bazaar is open every night from 5 p.m. to midnight, while Saturday Walking Street and Sunday Walking Street Markets are open from 5 to 11 p.m.
The Home Massage: Uhhh-MAZE-ING!!!! They provide to-and-from transportation. I checked in for my service at 9 p.m. and left at 11:45pm. She washed and massaged my feet, stretched me and cracked my back in all kinds of positions, did a full body Thai massage, and used a hot herbal compress, aroma oil, scalp massage, and tea and crackers were provided at the end.
I was blown away by how much I got. She really took her time to make sure I was in full relaxation mode and was not looking at a timer. My service was 1300 bahts ($39), which is actually considered more on the pricier side, but I still feel that $39 is fairly cheap for the kind of service I got and it was beyond worth it.
City Nail: This nail salon was right next to our hotel. They don’t use any machines to file, and do everything by hand. It does take a longer time compared to what I’m used to back home, but can we just take a second to appreciate the art work on every nail?! Can you say skills?!
Pai is a small hippy town with lots of cute cafes about three hours away from Chiang Mai. I took the bus from Chiang Mai to Pai for $4.50 each way. The drive up there is rough and for some reason I did this commute in one day, which I don’t recommend. If you can, I would suggest spending the night there.
Koh Yao Yai
I took a 30-minute ferry from Phuket to Santhiya Yao Yai Resort. The resort was immaculate! Everything was made out of wood, and the amount of detail was astonishing.
There’s complimentary yoga, Thai dancing, and Muy Thai classes; as well as complimentary kayaking, paddle-boarding, and bicycles. There was an infinity pool and I loooved the big waterfall pool. The restaurants were all so yummy too.
Phi Phi Islands
I took a 60-minute ferry ride from Koh Yao Yai to the beautiful tropical turquoise waters of Phi Phi Islands.
I stayed in Villa 360! It was very private and all about the views (a little far from everything, which I was okay with since I wasn’t looking to party). It was very clean, and they offer free transportation to the hotel from the pier. There’s a small village, which is about a 15-minute walk where you can enjoy inexpensive food and bargain on island tours. Unfortunately, it was raining a lot during my time here, so I didn’t get to tour everything I wanted.
Thailand is a beautiful place, and I’m glad I got to enjoy the authenticity it has to offer. Checked off and completed my first overseas trip! Where to next?