Thailand has always been one of my top bucket list countries to visit- but I’ve continually come up with excuses not to go .. until now! Some of the biggest concerns I’ve heard and been guilty of feeling myself about traveling to Southeast Asia have been “It’s too far”, ” The plane ride is too long”, “It’s too expensive”, “It’s dangerous”, “There’s too much of a language barrier”, “I wouldn’t know how to start planning” etc. Well I’m here to tell you that Thailand was everything I hoped it would be and more- and I can’t stop telling everyone I know that they need to visit!!
After close to 24 hours of flying and pushing 36 hours of traveling and being in airports, Miranda and I FINALLY made it to Thailand on Friday afternoon after leaving Wednesday afternoon from Florida. And although that sounds terrible, I promise it really wasn’t all that bad and by the time you leave Thailand you’re going to know it was all 100% worth it!
Day 1: Phuket streets and Kata beach
Friday we landed in Phuket and once we cleared immigration and customs we went straight to our hotel in Kata beach. We arranged a taxi pickup with our air b&b host and they picked us up within 15 minutes of us walking outside. All said and done we arrived by the afternoon and we headed down to the beach via a steep and busy street around 4pm just in time to catch the sunset and grab a smoothie on the beach. The hotel we stayed at worked perfectly for us, and was clean, comfortable and in a good location but the only thing is that it takes roughly a 40 minute walk to the beach. Not 5-10 minutes walking distance as advertised. Other than that it was great! If you rent a scooter or take a tuk tuk the beach is only 10 minutes away though.
Kata beach was filled with plenty of tourists and vendors alike, selling anything from drinks and food to massages, hair styling & beach mats. On the water you’ll always see an array of longboats (those beautiful wooden and colorful boats Thailand is known for), and during the day you’ll see water activities of all kind like parasailing, jet skiing and boating in general. Kata beach was definitely bustling and full of things to do, so if you want to relax head out there around 5pm when the sun starts to set and most of the tourists leave, or you can go to a nearby beach like Freedom beach which is less crowded and more secluded.
After the sunset Miranda and I made our way back up towards our hotel, stopping in the many stores, restaurants and fruit stands along the way. Most of the streets leading up to Kata beach have plenty of shops and services for tourists to enjoy ,including the famous fish pedicure on every corner. Even though I’m extremely ticklish I couldn’t resist giving it a try. The sign for the specific place we stopped at said it would cost 100 Thai baht for 30 mins of a fish pedicure, but since I just wanted to try it for 10 minutes I brought them down to 50 baht (which translates to roughly $1.50). Even though I could barely keep my feet in long enough for the fish to start eating the dead skin off my toes I kept wanting to put my feet back in the water anyways because as squeamish as it made me feel it also kind of felt good once I took my feet out.
Once I was tired of fish nibbling at my feet and Miranda laughing with the employees at me we grabbed dinner which included $2.50 Pad Thai (everything in Thailand is so cheap, especially the food!). And after dinner, ventured down the street back to a fruit market I saw so I could get some mango and dragonfruit. At this point it was around 6:30/7pm which is when it starts to rain… every day… in Southern Thailand. By the time I finished getting my fruit it was a full downpour and since we had walked from our hotel we decided to just have a beer inside the bar we ran into to shelter us from the rain. Eventually we realized that it looked like the rain wasn’t going to stop so we started making our way up the hill anyways until we found a Tuk Tuk to pick us up and take us back to the hotel (note: always agree on a price before you get to your destination or they’ll rip you off).
Day 2 in Phuket (our first full day in Thailand) we planned to go to an elephant sanctuary in the afternoon, and a Buddhist temple in the morning.
The temple we decided to visit was called Wat Chalong because it is the largest temple in Phuket. It also was in the direction of the elephant sanctuary, closer to the heart of the city. If you’re in Thailand I highly recommend visiting at least one temple while there, because not only are they beautiful to look at, but it’s always interesting to learn more about other peoples cultures and history and find out more about the country you’re visiting.
Buddhism is one of the most important Asian spiritual traditions. Though buddhism has stayed true to his core values, the religion has adapted to several different countries and cultures throughout the last few decades. Visiting a buddhist temple is something I highly recommend while visiting Asia. Similar to visiting the beautiful cathedrals in Europe, the detail that goes into these temples was as beautiful if not more beautiful and intricate than the cathedrals I’ve has the opportunity to visit over the years. Was Chalong Temple has multiple different temples and areas to see on the premises and some beautiful gardens. Inside there were also plenty of food, drink and souvenir vendors as well as some interesting vendors just outside the temple gates. And by interesting I mean people were selling odd baskets with random things in there that didn’t seem to go together (see photos), as well as snakes, frogs, fish, turtles and more. After talking to the Thai people selling the animals and fish we found out that each one is symbolic of a different characteristic: good health, wealth, wisdom etc. and by buying one and releasing them inside the temple garden, it’s supposed to bring you good luck in that area of your life. This time it was Miranda’s weird thing to try (mine was the fish pedicure) and she bought some fish and released them into the pond for good health. Not too long after we released the fish it was time to get picked up to go to the elephant sanctuary.
The elephant sanctuary tour is the only thing I booked in advance a few days earlier because Phuket Elephant Sanctuary is the only ethical elephant sanctuary that exists in southern Thailand and I wanted to make sure we had a chance to go! At $100 per person, this was the most expensive part of our trip, but for a 5 hour day at the sanctuary including two meals it was totally worth it. The transportation cost about $25 each roundtrip to Kata as well. I can’t say enough good things about this place! The staff was incredible, spoke English well, and the sanctuary was beautiful. We arrived around 1pm and had some fruit and snacks in the bungalows overlooking the elephants. We watched these gentle giants roam as the crew went over what the day would entail and talked to us about the elephants in the sanctuary and where/what they rescued them from. Around 2pm we set out to walk through the sanctuary and visit the elephants in their natural habitats. We saw 5 elephants total and were able to feed them at the end of the tour. I have to say, there’s nothing better than getting to be so up so close to these animals and seeing them living freely as animals should instead of being a part of a negative elephant tourism industry in Thailand.
I could go on and on about this, but to understand better where I’m coming from you can click this link to watch part of the video they played for us on how the sanctuary began. My whole life I wanted to ride an elephant until I started learning more about the kind of abuse and suffering these animals go through for our entertainment, so before you book an elephant excursion do your research and know what you’re getting yourself into. This is another informative video that shows what these elephants go through in order to be ridden and used in the tourism industry. WARNING- do not watch if you don’t want to bawl your eyes out!! But it’s really important that people realize what they are supporting by visiting many “elephant sanctuary” and “elephant trecking”places. Personally, I’d much rather visit these animals in their natural habitat on a safari or at least in one of these amazing sanctuaries that have rescued them. Phuket Elephant Sanctuary was by far the highlight of our trip!
Day3: Phi Phi to Krabi
After spending less than two days in Phuket we decided to make our way towards Krabi, another part of Thailand east of Phuket that is supposed to have some incredible islands and beaches… and I’m here to tell you it’s true. Krabi was much more beautiful than Phuket in my opinion.
To get from Phuket to Krabi you have two choices: drive or take a boat. We opted for taking a ferry that stops in Phi Phi along the way (another must stop in Thailand) and although it was a lot of travel to go by the slow ferry- the ride was beautiful. Via ferry it takes 2 hours to get to Phi Phi then another 2 to get to Krabi, stopping in Phi Phi (pronounced pee-pee, just an FYI) for 5 hours to explore. If you have more time than we did, I recommend spending at least one night in Phi Phi so that you can see the whole island (including monkey beach that we missed out on) and island hop from this location via boat excursions to nearby islands.
Though crowded, Phi Phi was beautiful and full of amazing restaurants. We walked straight off the docks and through the markets to get to the closest beach and laid out there for the day (this was literally the only part of our trip we spent relaxing since we only had 4 days here). We also ate some amazing food in Phi Phi.If you love mango you have to go to Mango Garden. They serve close to twenty different mango smoothies, along with mango sticky rice, mango ice cream, mango waffles… you get the idea. It was amazing! Definitely more pricey than the traditional Thai places we had been eating at, but still for two people to eat it cost us less than $15. It was so good we ended up going twice in our 5 hours there to get a smoothie before getting back on the ferry!
By the time we got to Krabi it was 5pm, and our cab ride to Aonang where we were staying took roughly 1 hour during rush hour. The drive along the road to Ao Nang was beautiful still, passing landforms that looked straight out of avatar the whole way there.
Our hotel Areetara ended up being in the perfect location, close to the beach, night market and streets with plenty of restaurants and shops to choose from. If you want a cheaper place, however, there was a hostel across the street from us that looked nice and had a lot of young people staying there that would hangout outside at night. We checked into our hotel and went to a nearby night market where I watched someone cook pad thai in front of me, listened to live music, and bought more fruit to eat for breakfast. The night market also had some pop up shops with clothing from local boutiques.
Day 4: Island hopping Krabi
On the next morning, and our fourth day in Krabi, Miranda and I woke up super early and ate breakfast at the hotel, so we could get to the beach and find an excursion to go on. I knew we wanted to go island hopping and snorkeling so we honestly just went to the first tourist spot we saw advertising it and booked it then and there. The excursion we booked was with Ranger Krabi and it cost about $30 a person, lunch and transportation included. We did this the morning of, just walking along the beach and booking at the first place we saw really. It ended up working out perfectly though! I highly recommend booking with them if you go to Aonang. The booth we booked at was directly in front of a pharmacy on the beach.
They came in a tuk tuk to pick us up less than an hour after booking it around 9 am and we went to their office location where we got life jackets and snorkel gear and signed a liability waiver. Around 10 am we were jumping on the boat with about 20 other people and went on our way to the first island! All in total we visited 4 islands and two snorkeling spots (Tub island, Talay Weak, Poda island, Chicken island, Railay, and Princess cave).
The guides once again were amazing, speaking perfect English and giving us some history on each island and everywhere we passed by on the way. Some of the islands we visited were no bigger than an airplane, while others had small towns on them and entire resorts. The snorkeling wasn’t the best in my opinion, so I would opt for kayaking instead next time if I went back. But overall the day was so fun and probably are favorite of the whole trip. The lunch they provided us was amazing also, and throughout the day they gave us fresh pineapple and watermelon along with chips and water bottles. Of all the islands we saw, Railay was my favorite by far. Unlike some of the other smaller islands we visited this one was large enough to have a resort onsite (The Rayavadee) which looked amazing and very exclusive (they had security everywhere). If you have the money- it looked like an amazing place to stay for a night or two!
By the time we got back to our hotel after the excursion we had little time to get ready for dinner before sunset so we hurried and left for Thanon Nopparet Thara street where all the bars, restaurants and markets are. Coming from Areetara we took a right turn on the street to go to a lot of the nicer restaurant and beach bars, and a left turn on the street to get to the outdoor food and souvenir vendors. Before dinner we went and had some drinks at Luna bar on the beach for sunset, and while there it started to pour again (6pm on the dot). So we stayed until it stopped and then made our way to the markets and restaurants to get some food. We got chicken fried rice served in a pineapple and pad Thai again (duh). And walked around some more before heading back to the hotel.
Day 5: Goodbye Thailand Hello Hong Kong
Our fifth day was time to say goodbye to Thailand and make our way to Hong Kong and eventually back to the U.S. Stay tuned for a 24 hour guide to Hong Kong!