Been There, Thai’d That: A Visit to Thailand

Here’s a look at my recent vacation to Thailand in November 2017!


On Wednesday, November 15, I departed from the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport (ATL) for Bangkok, Thailand via Qatar Airways. In total, the flight took approximately 20 hours, including 1 layover in Doha, Qatar.

I arrived at the Suvarnabhumi International Airport (BKK) in Bangkok at 7:00 AM.

From the Suvarnabhumi International Airport, I took a free shuttle to the Don Mueang International Airport (DMK), also located in Bangkok. The shuttle to and from these airports is completely free, but in order to ride, you must have evidence that you are catching a flight from the airport at which you’re going to. For me, I was taking a regional flight to Chiang Mai after my arrival at DMK.

By 3:30 PM that Friday of my arrival, I had finally arrived in Chiang Mai with the group…and so the real adventure began!


 

Friday, November 17 – Flight to Chiang Mai, Group Dinner

The flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai was only about an hour. In case you’re not familiar with Chiang Mai, here are a few facts:

  • Chiang Mai is a Northern Thailand province located some 700km away from Bangkok, Thailand’s capital. The locals refer Chiang Mai as the Northern Capital and it is Thailand’s second city with a population of about half a million.
  • Chiang Mai is a 13th-century ancient city of the Lanna Kingdom with over 700 years of history. In here you will certainly see the spiritual side of Thailand, as there are over 300 Buddhists temples in the city. Chiang Mai is a city of culture and tradition in transition. It has a distinct culture (of the Lanna Kingdom), with more temples than any other cities in Thailand, and has a lot of historical sites including portions of an old city that are still intact.
  • Located within a South East Asian country, Chiang Mai enjoys a tropical climate. The best weather is found during October to February, Thailand’s winter time, when humidity is minimized. But it can be enjoyable at any time of the year.
    • October to February: Best time to visit, as the weather is milder and nature is at its most beautiful.
    • March to April: Very hot, with temperature sometimes reaching over 35°C. The Songkran festival (Thai’s New Year) fell in April.
    • May to September: Not too hot, cloudy and rainy.Chiang Mai is truly culturally & historically sophisticated, but its real charm lies in the staggering range of tours, treks, courses and activities available.

 

At around 7:00 PM, my friends and I went to a traditional Thai dinner and performance. Here, we were greeted by beautiful Thai women playing music and given delicious Thai food to eat while we watched the Thai performers. We were even invited to dance with them at the end of the performance (which we did)!

Everything about our first night in Chiang Mai was inviting and authentic, from the food to the people.


Saturday, November 18 – Volunteer

On my first full day in Chiang Mai, I spent a day volunteering at the Wildflower Home. The Wildflower Home is a shelter for single mothers and their children escaping troubled lives. The Wildflower Home offers free education and skills training to ultimately create women who go on to live self-sufficient lives. In addition, they also offer counseling, healthcare and healthcare education, and financial management services.

It was such  a humbling experience to be able to be able to work with both the women and children of the shelter; as well as with the ex-pats; employees; and volunteers in their workshops and in their gardens.


In addition to volunteering, we were also able to make our own crafts! One of my favorites was the tie-dye station. Each one of us was able to make our own tie-dye scarf, which we all bought afterwards; the proceeds went to help support the women and children at the shelter. The women here are so talented! They make soaps, baskets, and other items to sell to those who come through the home.


Sunday, November 19 – Monk Chat and Temple Running

Chatting with a Buddhist monk was perhaps one of the coolest experiences that I had. I was able to sit down with Phra KK (sp?) and talk about his life as a Buddhist monk and even learn some meditation techniques, which I find myself practicing every now and again. Phra KK even showed us the different methods in which he drapes his robe, which was pretty cool! How many times in your life are you ever going to see that?

Afterwards, he took the group and I to a nearby temple where we were able to observe other monks and learn more about Buddha and the Buddhist philosophy.

I also spent the rest of the day wandering through the Old City to explore more of the beautiful temples that Chiang Mai had to offer.


Monday, November 20 – Elephant Sanctuary and Nigh Safari

Monday was dedicated to the animals! One of the most popular activities in Thailand is visiting an elephant sanctuary. The group and I went to the Lanna Kingdom Elephant Sanctuary. In an elephant sanctuary, the elephants are rescued from abusive environments and roam freely throughout the land. Riding elephants is considered abusive, so it is not allowed. I was able to feed and bathe them which was really so much fun. Elephants are truly gentle giants. Afterwards, we were fed a vegetarian lunch (because we must eat like the elephants) and shopped for a few souvenirs from the sanctuary. All in all, it was one of the most rewarding parts of the trip.

 

In the evening, the group and I decided to take a night safari. It is very similar to a zoo, but we rode in a shuttle and many of the animals (the ones that were safe enough to interact with humans) roamed directly next to us! The fact that it was at night made it a bit scary for us at times, but nevertheless, it was a good time. (I apologize in advance for the poor quality of these pictures. It was dark and we weren’t allowed to use flash.)

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Tuesday, November 21 – Ziplining

Wherever there’s lush jungles, you’ll be sure to find a zip lining course. Chiang Mai is no different. The first half of my day was dedicated to climbing hills and sliding across raging rivers!

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Wednesday, November 22 – Fly to Phuket

There was seriously SO much to do in Chiang Mai, and I had a blast doing it. On Wednesday, I headed back to DMK to the next destination: Phuket! From DMK to the Phuket International Airport (HKT), it took approximately 1 hour and 20 minutes.

If youre not familiar, here are a few facts about Phuket:

  • Phuket (pronounced Poo-get) is Thailand’s largest island situated off the west coast in the Andaman Sea. Two bridges connect the island of Phuket to mainland Thailand.
  • Phuket is one of the 76 provinces that make up the country of Thailand. With 69.5 million people, Thailand is the world’s 20th most populous country. Tourism has helped convert Phuket island into Thailand’s wealthiest province.
  • Phuket is hot and humid throughout the year with the highest temperatures between March and early May. During the summer monsoon season of May to October, mornings are often sunny and clear with afternoon and evening rain. November to February is the “cool” season and the most popular time for tourist visits.

Upon arrival at our hotel (info will be listed towards the end of the post), we where greeted with fragrant Thai drinks and yummy profiteroles!

 


Thursday, November 23 – Authentic Thai Cooking Class

What better way to celebrate Thanksgiving Day than to cook? You guys know I love to whip up some new recipes, which made this day a particular favorite of mine. Before starting to cook, we were escorted my our host, James, to one of Phuket’s markets. At the market, we were able to see hundreds and hundreds of square feet of fresh fruits, vegetables, and (very live) animals.

After touring the market, we were off to cook! The Phuket Cookery School sat beachside, and I spent the day learning to whip up some authentic Thai cuisines, and of course, taste my creations.

At the end of the day, I was even given hard copies of the recipes to re-create at home and bought a couple of extra recipes too. I don’t consider myself a foodie by any means, but I was so happy to bring back home additional knowledge and skills that I can add to my culinary arsenal.


Friday, November 24 – Island Hopping

It wouldn’t be me if I didn’t show up and show out at the beach! To conclude my Thai vacation, I went island hopping, and boy was it fun! I took a private speed boat from Phuket and set way to the ocean. I visited popular islands such as Monkey Beach, Mayha Bay, and the Phi Phi Islands, and I couldn’t have imagined it any more beautiful.


Saturday, November 25 – Depart from Thailand

I truly enjoyed my time in Thailand, and would certainly go back again. Leaving Thailand, I felt rich with adventure and culture. No matter where you go, you’ll never get bored there.

The flight back to ATL was approximately 23 hours from BKK via Qatar Airways, with 1 layover in Doha, Qatar.


Below, I will leave all hotel information, recommendations, and FAQs:

Hotel information: 

In Chiang Mai, I stayed at…

Amata Lanna Village 

8 Chaikaew Rd, Nhonghoi Muang, Chang Wat

50000 Chiang Mai, Thailand

In Phuket, I stayed at…

Grand Mercure Phuket Patong

Patongoi Ratuthit Songroipi 2, Kathu, Phuket

83150 Patong Beach, Thailand


Recommendations

Below are a list of foods, activities, and places that I recommend when visiting Thailand, and can generally be found in any Thai city that you visit:

Food

  • Mango sticky rice
  • Pad thai
  • Green curry
  • Thai ice cream

Activities

  • Visiting an elephant sanctuary
  • Getting a Thai massage
  • Going to the Night Market/Saturday Market (in Chiang Mai)
  • Riding a tuk-tuk
  • Catching a muay Thai boxing match

Places

  • Phi Phi Islands
  • Monkey Beach
  • The Royal Palace (in Bangkok)
  • Floating markets (in Bangkok)

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q: What should I wear in Thailand?

A: It depends on the time that you go. Typically, the best time to go to Thailand is October – February when it’s not too hot or too rainy. I packed minimally and brought with me several basic tops and patterned shorts. I dressed more on the conservative side when making these choices, meaning I didn’t wear any super short shorts or crop tops for modesty’s sake. I also recommend bringing a pair of sandals that you can easily slide on and off or a pair of slip-ons. When you’re visiting the temples, you cannot wear shoes, so it’s much more convenient to have a pair of one of those types of shoes for easy on and off. I purchased a pair of Crocs Isabella sandals for this trip; they’re rubberized which makes them waterproof, have a slip resistant sole, and slip on an off very easily.

Q: Are credit cards accepted in Thailand?

A: Major credit cards are accepted across Thailand in most major hotels and large restaurants. Smaller businesses will expect to be paid in cash, as will taxi drivers. Do not expect to look after all your spending with a credit card. Cheaper and budget accommodation will mostly work on a cash only basis.

Q: How much should I budget per day for a vacation in Thailand?

A: It depends a lot on what type of traveller you are and how much travelling you plan to do.

Accommodation

With a couple of exceptions (notably Ko Phi Phi and some parts of Phuket) you should be able to get a basic fan-cooled room for under 300 baht (B). If you want air-con then you’re looking at ther 500-1,000B range. Facilities like swimming pools, business centres and again push the price upwards. Take a look through the various accommodation sections on Travelfish to get an idea of what standard of accommodation works for you.

Food

If you’re eating on the street, three meals a day, then 100-150B per day is adequate. If you’re eating three staple meals in a backpacker style restaurant, you’ll be spending more like 250-400B a day. If you’re eating dinner at proper restaurants, then you could easily be spending 300B or more a meal.

Water

Thailand is hot and you’ll need to be drinking a lot of water. At least two to three litres of water a day — that will cost around 40-60B a day.

Alcohol

Alcohol is generally cheap compared to what you’d pay at home. A large bottle of beer can cost around 50B, a bottle of good gin or vodka around 600B. If you’ve having a couple of big beers every night with dinner, this will add up quickly.

Transport

Buses, trains and low cost flights are all very affordable. There is no real guideline in this regard as it depends entirely on how far and frequently you are travelling.

Q: Should I bargain for everything I want to buy in Thailand?

A: No. If an item has a price tag then you’re not expected to bargain. You are not expected to bargain in a restaurant either.

While bargaining is a central part of the Thai shopping experience, you should approach it with a healthy attitude. The point of bargaining isn’t to see the vendor lose money, but rather to get a price that you are both happy with. There can be a lot of tooing and froing on price, but it’s best done with a smile and a laugh rather than a scoul and finger pointing.

Remember once you start bargaining, if the vendor accepts a price you offer, then you should buy the good. It is considered very bad form to decline a purchase after having a price accepted.

Q: Can I drink the tap water in Thailand?

A: Residents tend to avoid drinking tap water where possible, instead relying on bottled water. The problem tends to be not so much the water when it leaves the plant, but rather the pipes it passes through to get to your tap. T

Brushing your teeth and washing your face shouldn’t pose any problems. But generally speaking, I always drank bottled water.

If you’d prefer not to rely on bottled water, look into buying your own bottle and refilling it, or using a sterilisation device like the SteriPen.

Q: Is there good vegetarian food in Thailand?

A: Absolutely, though you’ll need to look around a bit to find it sometimes – especially in the smaller rural centers.

Chiang Mai has a particularly good reputation for vegetarian food. You’ll also find a pretty good range of western vegetarian outlets in most tourist centers like Phuket.

Q: What is mobile phone coverage like in Thailand?

A: Very good. There are a number of Thai mobile phone companies and it is straightforward to buy a prepaid simcard on arrival to slot into your phone. Cards are inexpensive to buy and domestic calls and text messages are very cheap. Phone coverage is comprehensive across the country and you’d be hard pressed to find somewhere with no signal.

Q: Which is the better way to travel around Thailand – train or bus?

A: For long distance travel, train is generally the best option as the seating is more spacious with ample legroom and you can get up and walk up and down the train, sit in the dining car to eat (when available) and relax on your own bed (if you’re on a sleeper). Buses are generally faster than the trains but they do have more accidents and, depending on the class of bus can be very cramped. For short trips (up to four-five hours) they are ok, though for anything longer, when available, train is a better option.

Security on both trains and buses is ok, though petty theft remains a small problem on the trains – keep your valuables with you at all time and don’t get raging drunk on the trip and you’ll be fine.

Where your destination is not served by train, it will be faster and cheaper to get a bus the whole way rather than try to do a train/bus combination.

Many tourist destinations also offer private bus and minibus transport. While often cheaper than the public system, these buses should be avoided at all costs. The agents who sell tickets on these often use false promises of the length of trip, quality of bus and number of passengers most particularly for the notorious Bangkok to Siem Reap buses. If you are paying 100B for a trip that costs 500B at a public bus office, rest assured you will receive 20% quality, comfort and timeliness of the public service. Despite this, people continue to catch these buses and continue to be ripped off.

The sleeper trains have two classes, 1st and 2nd class and each then has the option of a fan or a/c cariage. Personal preferene is 2nd class fan. We find the a/c too cold and you can’t open the window during the daylight portion of the trip. 2nd class is also considerable cheaper.

Q: What medical supplies should I take to Thailand? 

A: Generally, you will be able to get medical attention and medicine throughout Thailand for most minor ailments, at local hospitals, medical clinics or pharmacies. Treatment costs are very reasonable by western standards. If you are looking at major surgery or get seriously ill, get yourself to Bangkok or home for treatment.

It is a good idea to take a small medical kit. There is not a prescription system in Thailand, so medication can be bought over the counter, I recommend purchasing a small first aid kit and insect repellent.


I hope you all enjoyed this post! Stay tuned for more travel adventures in 2018!