For months I was planning a trip to Thailand. It started when I came across this crazy fare, $428 r/t, OMG. I did the obvious, spread the word to all my peeps and within a day I had six people with their credit cards and we snatched up the deal. The date we chose to travel was nine months away.
With plenty of time to plan, my idea, my recruits, the travel itinerary was all up to me. What I decided to do was spread the word, not only because I was super excited about visiting such an exotic place but also because I didn’t know much about where I was going. All I knew was that I was going on an exotic vacay with my fam and two friends.
I began soliciting recommendations from people that had gone and from a few travel communities that I am a member of. From their suggestions, I compiled a list of all their recommendations. Months had come and gone and it was time to solidify the plans. A few months prior to leaving, two girlfriends backed out of the trip. The group of six turned in to four.
Our visit would be for 9 days and I needed to edit my list and figure out how we could maximize our time there. Customizing this trip was no easy fiat, mentally. I became overly concerned with making everyone happy, after all it was quite a distance away to not have anything but an amazing time, right? One major consideration was adding additional flights within the trip. I began to worry about how we would compete with jet lag and still muster up some energy to go out and experience. Finally, I made the decision, add only one flight and that would be to Chiang Mai.
The more friends and family started learning that we were headed to Thailand, the more the unsolicited advices came on where we should go. Across the board we were told Bangkok was not where we wanted to spend our time, it was just a city and we would not like it there. Bangkok was where we were flying in to and out of so Bangkok would be where would spend some time.
The additional flight I booked was for 3 days in Chiang Mai, then 4 in Bangkok. The decision was made and I obsessed over how to enjoy what I booked. I didn’t like what I was seeing. No pretty vistas, oh no, what would leave us awe-inspired? No fabulous beaches nearby, how would I spend moments to take fabulous selfies and leave with lasting impressions? Not many super fun excursions, how would I make this a trip I will never forget? I became apprehensive and didn’t even want to go. Oh yea wait, this trip was not a solo one, I was going and 4 deep. So, final decision, we were going to Chiang Mail and Bangkok by hook or by crook and making adjustments was not going to work out.
Here is the final plan that I created and how we freestyled it in between:
Day 1 – After a full day of travelling, our first check in was at the Avani Atrium in Bangkok. Excited we made it passed our grueling day of travelling, we took pictures with the teddy bears then called it a night. Early morning, gathered for the buffet breakfast in the hotel. Plenty of options so we chatted it up, toasted to being there and arriving safely, then headed to airport to catch the next flight to Chiang Mai.
Day 2 – Muay Thai. Check in at the Anantara Hotel. Boy was this place stunning. The hotel was serene yet luxurious. While checking in, we were asked if there was anything that was of particular interest to us. My boyfriend mentioned Muay Thai. Next thing I know we were changing into our gym clothes and were having a private lesson, just the 4 of us and an instructor. I quickly re-learned how out of shape I am, but I could throw some good jabs and uppercuts and quite possibly be able to knock somebody out. Okay, well maybe not that far. By the time our lesson was over we had worked up an appetite. The day was still young so we figured we’d walk around and familiarize ourselves with the neighborhood. After all the commuting we had done, we were ready to get to seeing and experiencing. On the list of must-dos was visit the Night Bazaar. We grabbed a bite to eat and discovered we were right there at the entrance of a street market. Vendor booths lined the streets and were beginning to open. Before calling it a night, we figured we’d check out the scene. We learned the street market where we were was the Night Bazaar. It ended up being where we would spend hours upon hours each night.
Day 3 – Cooking Class. Breakfast buffet then cooking class at the Pantawan Cooking School. I heard of this place from a few people and it came highly recommended. The reviews online were consistent with excellent ratings, professional equipment, friendly staff all in a traditional-style house set on lush grounds. Are you starting to get the picture of how I love attractive places? We were picked up at our hotel, taken to a local market to learn about their produce and get an introduction to some of the seasonings we would use in our meal we were about to cook. After the market, we were driven to the house. It was all that I had heard about and then some. Beautiful teak wood cooking and eating stations amidst serene green gardens and trees. Cooking class was informative, interactive and the meal we prepared was delicious. Staff was entertaining, helpful and very friendly. Class was over, back to the hotel then back to the Night Bazaar we went.
Day 4 – Day with the Elephants. Breakfast buffet then day with the elephants at the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. From what I learned, there was no opportunity to ride elephants at this place. While most dream of riding them, once I read it was not healthy to the animals, this place was the only option. What we were allowed to do more than made up for it. We spent the day with them, learned about them, fed and bathed them. Bathing them meant us joining them in these vast springs. For me it was magical. These grandiose creatures are a site to see and a memory I will have for years to come. Then it was back to the hotel. The ride back to the hotel was long and not the most comfortable but it was still fairly early so back to the Night Bazaar we headed. Despite having gone as often as we did, we were discovering new vendors and goodies each time. So we were loving it.
TIP: Bring and insist to wear, water shoes. You’ll thank me later.
Day 5 – Sadly it was time to leave the amazing hotel. I was not excited about it. We had found our happy place in Chiang Mai, but it was time to leave and head back to Bangkok.
Once in Bangkok, we were booked to stay at the Royal Orchid Sheraton. This place came recommended and I will say, my first impression…booooo. Our room was dated and reeked of cigarette smoke. I called the front desk and let them know how disappointed we were. I requested an updated room and an upgraded room was arranged. Honestly, the upgrades were minor, I was quite disappointed, however, they made every effort to accommodate us.
TIP: While I didn’t LOVE the rooms at this hotel, its location was prime. There are lounge chairs along the dock, there is a great pool overlooking the very active river that are lovely to spend time at. There are restaurants everywhere on the dock and around the neighborhood. Also, the river front hotels have boat taxis that can take you to the temples and to shopping to venture around and experience. The price wasn’t bad either. I would stay again.
Day 6 – Floating Market. Woke up in the morning to start our day. We met taxi driver, Kai. Kai offered us car service to where ever we wished to go. I had heard about something called the floating market and Kai knew where it was. After a long drive to the floating market, we entered the waiting area and then we were escorted to our boat. The driver takes you around in these boats, with no introduction or greeting or any information for that matter, to shop vendors of all kinds of products: artwork, clothing, food, souvenirs which were all stationed on the docks along the canal ways. While a cool experience, honestly, we were not interested in much. After all we were hooked on the street markets. The vendors were super persistent, willing to bargain, but their assertive and aggressiveness was a turn off. We did however find beauty in the experience. Headed back and by the time we got back to our digs, it was time to make a dinner plan. We arranged for Kai, who turned out to be our private car service for the remainder of our stay, to take us to dinner. I searched for a restaurant online that had good reviews and that served American style food. Seven Spoons it was. Good choice, even for the pickiest of pallets. We all agreed after being served it was yummy.
TIP: There are different floating markets. The Amphawa looks to be a nice one, but it does not run weekdays. If the floating market is on your list, factor in the days/hours of operation when deciding.
Day 7 – Temples. Our hotel was situated right on the very active river. So we learned we could hop on a boat to visit the temples. Day was spent discovering three amazing temples, the Grand Palace, What Pho and Wat Arum. Truly a magnificent sight to see. Fun fact: make your way walking from the Grand Palace to the Wat Pho and you’ll find vendor stations serving refreshments, a cup of noodles, and snacks. By the time you’re walking and grabbing and munching along the way it will feel like you’ve had a perfectly timed free lunch.
TIP: You do not need to pay a taxi to get to the temples. If you are staying at a riverfront hotel or near, you can hop on the boats (small fee). It’s a lot faster too. Traffic is crazy in Thailand. The boat gets you to all three temples. You also do not need to pre-book any excursion to visit. The temples do have a dress code to enter and ladies, NO LEGGINGS. You can however, have them under a skirt or dress or a scarf as your skirt over your leggings.
Day 8 – Zoo. We decided to take a trip to the open safari zoo. Kai to the rescue. He drove us there and waited for us while we went around looking at the animals. We went around the zoo and felt like we had the whole place to ourselves. So it was find, flicks and keep it moving. Lots of great animals and photo-ops in there. There is also a closed bus safari ride to enjoy. Its ½ long and takes you around where there are beautiful animals, even more than inside the park.
TIP: At the zoo, go see the giraffes. There are a herd of 200 giraffes and they are not in cages. You can pet them, feed them and take pictures with them.
After 4 hours at the zoo, we headed out and back to the hotel. We sat in the lobby and began talking about our next plan, where would we venture off to. I mentioned finding the Asiatique Market. This couple overheard us and said they were headed there as well and we could hop on boat and go. All I could say is woah baby. We discovered another happy place. This waterfront market was endless. We spent our final night strolling through the shops and bargaining for more fun finds. Our flight back home was scheduled for early morning departure and with such a long flight ahead of us it just made sense to exhaust ourselves there so we can then sleep on the plane ride home. It was Thanksgiving and I had planned for us to eat traditional Thanksgiving dinner at a restaurant that I learned was serving it. Unfortunately, that did not happen. However, like the rest of our time there, we turned our evening into another awesome time. By the time we were ready to leave, it started to rain so we had to stay until the rain subsided. We found an eatery and traditional Thai food it was. The place was a fast food place but the food was delicious.
Boy, we did Thailand up. Each day was an adventure, done our way. Despite my hesitation and everything we accomplished, I would go back tomorrow. Chiang Mai and even Bangkok was awesome.
CLOSING TIP: They said I wouldn't like it. Travel with a positive attitude, don’t worry about much or accept negative reviews. Each experience is unique. Be ready to have a great time and well, you just might.