Time of Year: May-June 2016
Places I visited: Bangkok, Surin, Koh Samui, Koh Tao, Phuket, Koh Phi Phi
Hostel Names: Rambutti House Bangkok, Koh Samui- Bunglaow near beach, Phuket- BAAN LAIMAI BEACH RESORT AND SPA
Highlights: Koh San Road, Ride in a Tuk Tuk, Koh Tao, Koh Phi Phi, Temples, Thai Massage
Thailands’ culture is something that really needs to be remembered, it is not just a party country. Their culture is beautiful and based a lot on respect. Some of the major takeaways would be to: 1. Do not discuss the Thai Royal family in public under the Lese Majeste law you can be imprisoned by anything you say, this also goes for stepping on Thai money even if you accidentally do it. 2. Do not disrespect Buddha by utilizing anything to do with Buddhas’ heads- it is wrong to use Buddha heads as tattoo, decoration, or merchandise. 3. There is no drinking on Buddha day. 4. Do not wear bathing suits unless you are at the beach. There are many other unwritten cultural practices and knowledge that I attached to another blog post here, these are just some that I think need to be understood before traveling there.
The biggest questions I get while traveling are- how do you do it by yourself? Is it scary? Don’t you get lonely? I honestly don’t know how I do it some days, its overwhelming at times to constantly search for a place to stay, find stuff to fill up your days, not get upset for taking the extra day to rest and relax, and where and when you will have your next meal. Thailand was a life changer for me. I was TERRIFIED to go by myself. I planned to go to Thailand and split my time from volunteer work and exploring. My first solo trip, my first trip to Asia, my first backpacking trip…all in one. Everything was scary and new and overwhelming. I’m not going to sugarcoat it, It was extremely difficult. I had a layover in Doha, Qatar before I went to Thailand. I cried basically the entire flight to Qatar, the entire three-hour layover, and then the entire flight to Bangkok. I almost even got on a flight home from Qatar because I thought I couldn’t do it. I was a blonde white girl with a tank top and yoga pants on with a giant yellow backpack sticking out in a conservative Muslim majority country where all women culturally wear niqabs. They were shielding their children from me and every single person was staring at me, the first ever-real culture shock I experienced. This is why I so highly recommend doing a bit of research before going to another country.
I decided on my trip I would split the first two weeks volunteering in an elephant village and three weeks backpacking the rest of Thailand and Indonesia. If you would like to know more about the volunteer program I went with called the Bamboo Project, which you can find more info on here.
When I finally got to Thailand, I instantly fell in love. It was Buddha day when I arrived in Bangkok, so my group picked me up from the airport; we got dinner and then unpacked my stuff. At midnight, you were allowed to drink so we waited until then to go out. The most popular road Koh San Road was just as crazy as in movies and stories. Literal buckets of alcohol for the equivalent to $1 USD, clubs with free drinks at entry, and DJs and clubs everywhere you looked. The street food smelled amazing, even the carts filled with bugs from tarantulas to crickets. If there’s one thing you do in Thailand, it’s to try the street food. It’s so cheap that even if you don’t like it you can throw it away and it won’t break the bank. If you’re not feeling the street food, go to 7-eleven where they have amazing sandwiches called toasties.
We spent a few days in Bangkok going over cultural tours and things we should know about the upcoming weeks in the village. Some of the things we went to were the Wat Pho Temple and getting blessed by Buddhist Monks and the Reclining Buddha. The train to Surin was long a bit sketchy. I was not used to having a hole as the toilet in the ground where you squat over it while you are on the train, and side note: Thailand does not have toilet paper so I suggest you buy some travel-sized ones before coming! We stayed in a volunteer house for the night before heading to the village in the morning.
At the village, it was everything I had thought of except living it was a whole other experience. Most of the people in the village were children or grandparents, as the parents would work in Bangkok and send money back home here. There was no running water-we had rainwater in a bathtub that we would scoop out for ‘flushing’ the toilet, for brushing our teeth, doing dishes, and for taking the infamous ’bucket shower’. We didn’t have a sink so we would spit after brushing our teeth onto the floor and using the water to rinse it into a hole. We would wash our clothes outside with the chickens roaming in little kiddie pools and hang dry them-hoping it wouldn’t rain at night and it was not too humid so they could dry. The elephants, chickens, dogs, etc. sounded like real-life Jurassic Park in the AM when you wake up to all of their noises, especially when there’s a huge storm and the walls are paper-thin in the house. The buckets of rainwater outside the elephants would stick their trunks in to drink which was also for us to rinse off our feet before going inside. We slept in two separate rooms, on thin mats on the floor with mosquito nets and a small fan inside. There were people there for volunteer work in the village and for also working in the school with children. At night they taught us some games, we sang songs in other languages, played in the rain with the elephants and puppies, and drank local beer and liquor. During the day, we would split up by our groups, some days we would walk the elephants to the river for a bath-which they LOVE, clean up the community by picking up trash, planting and harvesting bamboo and banana trees, making elephant poop paper, kayaking in the river, and visiting the local elephant sanctuary where all the elephants who have past are laid to rest and are remembered. Each of the elephants, there was about 17 at the time and one was pregnant, had a mahout who was like a personal caretaker of each elephant. Every day was like a dream, the locals would make us three meals a day, and there was a small local market we could go to on Wednesdays. On the weekend, we were able to go back to the volunteer house in Surin City and do whatever we wanted. I became close with three other girls in the village, surprisingly all from the United States. A few people went to a beach and our group decided to randomly go to Cambodia. We had so much fun there and that will be detailed on a separate blog. We did the same thing the next week after arriving back in Thailand. When leaving the village, some people were staying and others were going home. One girl who I met from Florida, Brenna, she decided to join me for the next week backpacking around instead of doing another week in the program. She met me in Koh Samui and we traveled there and then to Phuket before she left to go home. I’m so happy I was able to meet a complete stranger who turned out to be someone I clicked with and was able to share a room and travel with me for another week. The rest of the trip was mine to do completely solo and to also then meet a friend in Indonesia. Here were some of the highlights from those places in Thailand!
Koh Samui: I stayed in Fisherman’s Village. A little bit smaller than most islands but very nice and secluded. Lots of day trips to take from here for a reasonable price. I did one to the Blue Lagoon in Ang Thong, it was an amazing hike and relaxing day. Then I did another one to Koh Tao, this ride can get really rough if you get seasick so I suggest to bring pills. This is more of a honeymoon place and not a party place. Massages were cheap and with beautiful views. There are Thai and Western food restaurants and be sure to check out Coco Tams on the beach, they have fire dancers at night. Be careful with the sun here because you will get burnt! I stayed at a hostel called Castaway Guesthouse and Bar Koh Samui and I absolutely hated it. It was sketchy, not a single person was in the hostel with me, there were no lights at night and my door did not lock all the way. I decided to pack my bags and cancel my stay there and booked another stay at a bungalow down the road. I do not remember the name of the bungalow however, I recommend staying at a higher-end place here because the quality for the price is what you get.
Phuket: We flew to Phuket and stayed at a gorgeous hotel for super cheap. We took a day trip to Koh Phi Phi, Monkey Bay, and Pileh Lagoon. We visited the Tiger Kingdom, which is popular in Phuket, although there is some controversy around this since the cats are kept in cages, they are not drugged and seem to be properly cared from what we saw. There is a popular street called Bangla Road at night to go which has bars, clubs and lots of…shows. Ping Pong shows to be exact and if you don’t know what that is, I would suggest Googling it, or not (PG13 warning lol). During the day this street also had lots of vendors, rolled ice cream carts, fresh fruit, and street food. I highly recommend grabbing a drink at a convenience store and head to Patong Beach for sunset, amazing views.
All said and done, Thailand will always have a special place in my heart. It changed who I am today and I think if I hadn’t pushed myself out of my comfort zone I don’t think all the traveling I’ve done since would have happened. It made me grow, want to learn more, and how to share my knowledge and understanding back home.
PSA: Be careful if you’re looking to volunteer or go on a day trip with elephants or any other animals. Do some research beforehand on the treatment and reviews of the place. Many have been shut down in recent years for poor treatment.