Bangkok, Thailand… start of the backpacker trail of SE Asia. Love it or hate it, if you’re going to Asia, you WILL end up in Bangkok. We have now been there several times and I must admit, I enjoy it. Yes, it is crazy, crowded, and chaotic. An enormous city of over 8 million, Bangkok is polluted with horrific travel. And yet, there is something that always draws me back.
While we were traveling long-term on our RTW lots of people promised to come and meet us for a holiday. Only Jim’s sister Wendy and her husband Ken actually made good on that promise. By the time they arrived we’d been on the road nearly six months and were more than ready for familiar faces. I’m sure that first night, jet lagged and arriving into town at nearly 1am, they were completely overwhelmed by our nonstop chatting for several hours!
We stayed, as always, at the New Siam II, a great guest house walking distance to the Grand Palace, Chao Phraya River and Koh San Road but down a side alley which helped create an image of calm amongst the chaos. Somehow I never get tired of sightseeing around the city. Granted it’s best in short spurts, but the highlights of Bangkok are just that, highlights of any trip. The over the top extravagance of the Grand Palace and the reclining Buddha at Wat Po is always one of our first stops. Wendy, unprepared for the strict Buddhist regulations of a visit, was required to rent a skirt to cover her shorts and yet, somehow looked remarkably fashionable!
My favorite day trip out of Bangkok…. the Damnoen Saduak floating market. Is it over tourist-ed? yes! Is it overpriced? yes! Have we been to other, much more authentic markets in Asia? yes! Why do I love it? I don’t know exactly. Maybe Thailand calls to me because it was the first country in SE Asia we traveled to. Maybe, like Puerto Vallarta, its because we’ve been there often enough that it feels familiar. Whatever the reason, I love wandering the market of goods I have no need for, chatting up the vendors and eating fried bananas, noodle bowls, and exotic fruits.
We had been to the beaches of Hua Hin previously but for this trip we really wanted to head further south, to Thailands epic beaches and after some research Ko Samui won out. We were looking for kite boarding for the boys, a variety of things to do, and gorgeous beaches for all and found just what we were looking for at Lagoon Bay. Located on idyllic Chewang Beach, our bungalows were good sized and the pool and restaurant overlooked the amazing turquoise waters. Loads of stores and restaurants lined the streets, there were plenty of opportunities for photos with monkeys, high on Wendy’s wish list, and endless loudspeakers advertising the nightly muay thai boxing at the local sports arena.
It was a lovely few days of doing almost nothing. Having actually made all reservations for the two weeks in advance, it was an actual vacation for Jim & I as well as our guests. Most people still believe we were simply on holiday for 14months, having no concept of the time and effort involved in simply arranging transportation and lodging on a day to day basis when you’re traveling on the fly. The boys took kite-boarding lessons, Wendy & I bought face masks, expecting a liquid such as we get here at home and were surprised to find a literal MASKS, Jim & I went to see our first exhilarating muay thai boxing, and we all spent a great deal of time chilling on the beach.
One thing I did NOT want to do is rent moto scooters. We have seen far, far too many people bandaged up and on crutches due to cycling accidents throughout Asia and Ko Samui, in particular, was well known for the number of tourist accidents. However, the boys kite boarding lessons were further down the island, requiring transportation and so I allowed them to convince me to put aside my trepidation. Ironically enough, Jim & I did end up in a minor accident the final day returning from lessons. We were following a truck on an uphill section when it slowed and nearly stalled. With cars coming towards us in the other direction we had no choice but to slow ourselves and crash into the ditch, landing hard on some decaying chickens! Luckily, our injuries were quite minor and no harm done more serious than a broken mirror to fix but my first thought after we crashed was ” seriously, not only did we crash but I landed on a dead chicken!”
From Ko Samui we headed far north to one of our favorite places in the world, Chiang Mai. Jim & I had last been there just two weeks earlier on our way in from Laos and it was a warm welcome upon our arrival at our favorite guest house, Lai Thai. Chiang Mai is certainly no quaint, village. The second largest city in Thailand, it sprawls over a huge patch of countryside, however somehow,unlike Bangkok, Chiang Mai has much more of a small town feel to it. Surrounded by amazing smaller towns such as Pai and Chiang Rai, the countryside is ripe with activity options from trekking to bamboo rafting to elephant safaris to village visits.
Lai Thai Guest House is walking distance to the old town as well as the night market region, full of restaurants, noodle shops, and massage shops. We headed right to Doi Suthep, the Buddhist temple high on the hill above town. 309 steps to the top brings you to fantastical extravagance, similar to the Grand Palace in Bangkok. We lit incense offerings and wished for a clearer view of Chiang Mai, while admiring the colorful temples.
The remaining of our time was filled with leisurely activity. Daily foot massages, including one at the Womens prison that was part of our Lonely Planet walking tour of the old town. We visited temples, took in the markets, and ate very, very well. Overall it was a really lovely holiday. If Wendy & Ken hadn’t come to visit we would, most likely, have skipped Thailand, having been there several times already, but I’m so glad we didn’t. Yes, it is a bit touristy these days but it’s popularity lives on for good reason. Welcoming, interesting, exotic and inexpensive, Thailand is always a good idea.