Elephants, Scooters, and Boats: 2 Friends in Thailand- Day 5

We woke up extremely early on our 5th day. Reason? We still had a few more hours left with our scooters, and we wanted to see the sunrise, but not just any regular sunrise. We wanted to see the sun come up at the famous Phuket landmark, The Great Buddha of Phuket, also known as Big Buddha.

Big Buddha is a beautifully built, 18-meter tall statue located high on a mountain facing east, towards Ao Chalong Bay. Although parts of the grounds are still under construction, you can see why Big Buddha is a popular destination for locals and tours alike.

Because Chris and I are both morning people (when I want to be, I should clarify), we jetted off towards Big Buddha during the wee hours of the morning. I think it was something like 4:45-5am. It only took us about 30 minutes to drive our scooters to the location, and about 10 of those minutes were spent driving around and up the mountain, arriving before the sky started to light up.

It wasn’t very crowded when we arrived, so I was able to search out a place to attempt to capture a timelapse of the sunrise with my GoPro. (This is an essential part to the story). Everything was going perfect. The sun started to wake, the sky was turning beautiful colors, and everything was quiet. That was until the monkeys appeared.

Monkeys are known to be ruthless little creatures and scavengers on the hunt for food. In my case, one monkey was heading right towards me and getting a little aggressive. Then it started towards my GoPro. NOT GOING TO HAPPEN. So, I grabbed my GoPro, which of course, pissed this monkey off. Next thing I know, the monkey jumped on my back and attempted to bite me. It all happened so fast that I honestly couldn’t tell if he made contact with me or not, as he tried to bite my upper back between my shoulder blades. Two ladies, who were nearby, saw this event take place and were kind enough look on my back for any signs of bite marks. Sure enough, the little bugger broke the skin; not deep enough to cause bleeding, but he did break it.

Now, I know what you might be thinking. Why did I reach for my GoPro? Monkeys are known to be carriers, though not frequent, for rabies, and I put myself at risk by going after my GoPro. GoPros are not cheap, and I knew if this monkey got it, it would be gone forever. So, I took a chance.

I told Chris what happened with the monkey and texted my mom, who I am sure LOVED getting that text message. The three of us went back and forth about the rabies vaccination and ultimately decided it would be stupid not to get the shots. It’s just not worth the risk EVER.

Unfortunately, Chris and I had a prebooked boat tour for the afternoon and knew we would not have enough time to go to the hospital before the tour. I understand this probably isn’t the smartest thing, but I wasn’t worried and didn’t want to miss out on Pha Nang Bay, so we postponed getting the vaccination until after the tour.

At this point, it is now 7 am. We were both starting to get hungry, and both in desperate need of coffee. What I didn’t mention from yesterday, was that Chris and I stumbled across this random coffee shop on our drive home from sunset. We were curious about it, so we decided that we needed to make a visit before returning to Patong.

Yes Coffee, we found, was established to support underprivileged people in Thailand. It is more than just a roastery. It is also a school, which provides Burmese migrant children with education and currently has about 50 students and employs three teachers. Talk about a hidden gem of Phuket. Stumbling across this coffee shop was, for me, a major highlight of the trip. I genuinely love supporting businesses like Yes Coffee.

With the time of the tour creeping close and our time with the scooters about to expire, we headed back to Patong and our hostel. We had enough time to change into our suits and gather our things before we headed out towards the marina for our tour.

Now, something you should know about Chris is that he is an incredibly active man, so when looking for tours, I knew I needed to find something more than just sitting on a boat. With all the research I conducted, this tour, John Gray Sea Canoe “Hong by Starlight” was rated exceptionally well. I knew it would be an excellent way to see the beautiful Phang Nga Bay, which I really wanted to see because this bay has what seems like hundreds of tiny islands clustered together creating a breathtaking scene. I couldn’t let either of us leave Phuket or Thailand without seeing this site, so this was the tour I decided we needed to experience.

Okay, back to the day. It didn’t take us long after our arrival to the marina before we boarded the double-decker boat. The main level is a full kitchen because shortly after we left the port and on our way towards the Hong Islands, we were served a delicious lunch with a beautiful selection of Thai food.

Something exceptional about this company is that one guide is assigned to each kayak and they paddle the sea canoe

“through “Tidal Nape” Sea Caves literally inside Phang Nga Bay’s marine limestone karstic islands into “Hongs “(Thai for “Room”)”

https://www.johngray-seacanoe.com/trips/thailand/day-trips/hong-by-starlight.html

Our first sea canoe adventure took us through a tight cave, requiring us to lay completely flat, before opening to an extremely shallow mangrove lagoon. We were even giving the chance to stand in the middle of this lagoon. I mean, really, a once in a lifetime opportunitiy.

We continued to our next location, which was a larger cluster of several islands and lagoons. These lagoons were a bit deeper, and after our first time through with the guide, we were given a chance to go back alone and explore. Chris took the paddle and guided our sea canoe back to the lagoons. This was another major highlight for both of us because once we headed back, we found ourselves alone in the middle of an island in the middle of Phang Nga Bay in Thailand. It was so beautiful and peaceful. Truly a special moment shared with two friends.

The next adventure, which was another reason I selected this tour, included making our own krathong with the help of our guide. A krathong, which is a floating flower offering/basket that is a part of a spiritual ceremony which pays respect to the water spirits during a festival called Loi Krathong. I had the opportunity to participate in the festival in November, and I thoroughly enjoyed the cultural symbolism of the festival and felt that Chris would too. So, after we finished creating our krathong, and after eating a delicious dinner while watching the sunset, our guide lead us through a dark cave with bioluminescence. The cave ended in a beautiful lagoon, where we found our own quiet corner, lit our krathong, and released it into the water, making our wish.

Unfortunately, these quiet, special moments can’t last forever, and it was time we started heading back into port. It was quite late by the time we finally arrived back to our hostel and knew we had another super early sunrise wake up the next day, so we quickly headed to bed.

Stay tuned for the next blog, where Chris and I take another boating adventure to the Phi Phi Islands!!

Elephants, Scooters, and Boats: 2 Friends in Thailand- Day 4

We had another peaceful morning in the dorm, as our dorm-mates did not arrive home until close to 6 am in the morning. We, mostly me, decided to sleep in a bit this particular morning since we knew we were going to have sunrise-early mornings over the next couple of days.

Our hostel, Bearpacker Hostel in Patong, had been EXTREMELY helpful with any questions we asked about “what to do” in Phuket and guided us to the decision of motor scooter rentals for the day. They were able to provide us with a motor scooter rental place near the hostel. The rental place charges 300 baht per day, which is roughly $10, and we knew we’d only really need the scooter for one day. We had another excursion per booked for Thursday and Wednesday was kind of our only free exploration day!

As I mentioned early, we had a late start to our morning but still managed to get out of Patong before noon. If you don’t know anything about Phuket then let me tell you this, Phuket is a decently sized island with very few main roads and Patong, where we were staying, is a beach town on the island but is not the main city of the island. That city is called Phuket City, or in Thai, Amphoe Mueang Phuket. Amphoe Mueang indicates the primary city of a province or island, Amphoe means the second largest city, and ban means a suburb or neighborhood of that specific location. For us, we knew our first destination of our “Tour de Phuket Motor-scooter Adventure” needed to be the main city to explore the historic “Old City of Phuket City.”

Chris, I must say, was quite the natural scooter driver! He didn’t hesitate to jump on his own bike and follow me as we headed eastbound on a hectic road. I didn’t really know where our final destination was going to be, but we had an area in mind. It didn’t take us very long to arrive into the Old City, and after driving for a tiny bit, we found a cute coffee shop called Old Phuket Coffee “Coffee Station” and decided to park and have something to drink.

I was kind of a lousy tour guide at this point because I honestly didn’t do much research on things to do in the Old City and wasn’t totally sure of what we should do. Thankfully, Chris is a pretty easy going guy, so he was up for just wandering and wandering we did.

After a while, we decided it was time to take off to another location, and this location I knew about beforehand. If you know anything about me, you’ll know I love a good beer or liquor tasting. I love learning about how each distillery or brewery makes their products and if there is anything special about these products. In Phuket, there just happens to be a unique rum distillery located in another neighborhood that I thought would be a fun destination. At the time I told Chris about it, I didn’t know just how unique it was,. I honestly thought it would just be fun to say we’ve toured a rum distillery in Thailand.

Chalong Bay Rum Distillery, located in Chalong Bay, makes their rum from sugarcane, which differs from other rums distilled. Most rum is made from molasses, including the rums made in the Caribbean. In fact, they told us that less than 5% of all white rum is made directly from sugarcane and that Thailand, which has over 200 types of sugarcane, is the 4th largest producer.

Did you know sugarcane actually originated in southeast Asia and was exported to the French Caribbean by Christopher Columbus? MIND BLOWN. I had NO IDEA. I’ve even been to rum distilleries before, but never knew this piece of information. It was quite a fantastic experience at Chalong Bay Rum Distillery learning about how uniquely special it was and getting my first taste of Thailand sugarcane white rum. We even got to try their famous mojito and 4 different flavored rums. Totally worth the visit!

From the rum distillery, we headed south towards an area called “Fit Street.” Why? Well, a friend of a friend of a friend of mine from Arizona actually coaches CrossFit at one of the big gyms in Chalong, and I thought it would be fun to see how these Muay Thai gyms run. Holy smokes, I was NOT prepared for what I witnessed. Her particular gym, Tiger Muay Thai, was MASSIVE. It was quite the sight to see how many people are training for mixed martial arts, Muay Thai and CrossFit all in the same area! Joy was a perfect tour guide to her gym, and I’m so thankful with her kindness to two complete strangers.

Since Joy lived in Phuket, she was also an excellent resource for things to do, and at this point of the evening, we were closing in on sunset. Joy was able to provide us with a few places we could go to watch the sunset along the western coastline.

One of the places she mentioned, which I’ve read about from other sources, was Promthep Cape. We thought it sounded like a great place to go, so we jumped back on our bikes and headed southwest to this cape. It was extremely populated with easily over 100+ humans, and unfortunately, the sunset was not that great…or, so we thought.

We ended up leaving the cape because of how non-climatic the sunset had been and began driving back north towards Patong with Chris in the lead. All of a sudden, Chris turns into a beach parking lot. This is one of those totally Mapless Adventures. It wasn’t a very large beach, but it had these beautiful rock formations. Once we arrived at this random beach (later found out it was called Yanui Beach), the sunset turned the sky into beautiful shades of pink and purple. Absolutely breathtaking. Of course, a mini photoshoot occurred with me totally not understanding what Chris was trying to tell me, and well the pictures speak for themselves.

After sunset, we continued on our way, driving through Kata Beach and Karon Beach before returning to Bearpacker Hostel. We both decided it was better to keep the bikes for the next morning even though we had a tour because our tour wasn’t until 11:30 and that was plenty of time to see the sunrise at another popular location.

Our night didn’t end here. Once we returned from our motor scooter adventure, we headed out for dinner and decided tonight was a perfect night for a Thai massage. We chose a place close to the market near our hostel, but unfortunately, Chris’s first experience with a Thai massage wasn’t very traditional. I was a bit sad because I was really hoping he’d get a great experience. It just meant we would need to get another one before the week was over.

As per usual, our night ended reasonably late even though we had another early, early morning for sunrise, but thankfully our dorm-mates went out partying, so we had the place to ourselves.

Stay tuned for our next day’s adventure, which I will call “MONKEY.” You won’t want to miss this travel story!

Elephants, Scooters And Boats: 2 Friends in Thailand- Days 1, 2 & 3

Homesick is a real thing, and although I don’t get homesick often, it hits me hard when it does. So when one of my good friends, Chris, texted me saying he was thinking of stopping in Thailand for a week on his way home from his Nepal trip, most of the homesickness disappeared! It turned in to excitement! Excitement for not just planning a whole week vacation but also for getting to show off this amazing country I call home now, to a good friend, who has been ever so supportive in all of my crazy, Mapless Adventures!!!

One thing Chris told me was all he wanted to do was see elephants and to go ahead a plan the trip, which is quite a big responsibility and I really didn’t know where to start! I needed a little help from him, so I asked him to decide on beaches or mountains. This helped us determine the entry and exit point (which ended up being Bangkok regardless).

He mentioned he hasn’t really done a “beach” vacation, so after endless research (I’m a sucker for research), I decided on Phuket Island, in the city Patong. I understand Patong has a reputation for party and nightlife, but I choose the location simply because of the location! It was very central and not too far from anything! Once the city/location was selected the rest of the planning was pretty easy!

I felt like a kid at a candy store, waiting for his arrival in Bangkok! And practically burst into tears when I saw him walk out of the arrival area. I kind of felt bad for him as he was dressed for cold weather, and Thailand was anything but cold. He arrived in the late evening, so we didn’t do much that first night (our flight to Phuket was early the next morning), mostly just talked and looked at pictures from his Nepal adventure and I loved every minute of it!

Our journey from Bangkok to Phuket was pretty uneventful. The flight was about 1.5 hours, and then the taxi was for about an hour to our hostel. Once we arrived at our hostel, we got settled in then ventured out for Chris’s first authentic Thai food experience- Pad Thai! We ate at a place called No. 9, which was super popular and for a good reason. It was delicious! After lunch, we honestly didn’t do a whole lot the rest of the day. We mostly just wandered the streets of Patong, experiencing our first crazy Bangla Road heckling for “ping pong” shows, which obviously we DID NOT do. We had our elephant experience early the next morning, so we called it a relatively “early” night.

The next morning, it was time for elephants! I hadn’t done this before nor had Chris, so it was a first for both of us. We decided on the full day excursion with Elephant Jungle Sanctuary Phuket, which includes feeding, jungle hike, poo paper, kayaking, bathing with the elephants, and two meals. Seemed like a pretty good deal!

The morning part with the elephants was something special. We learned general information about the Asian elephant, we learned about their food and diet, and we got a chance to feed them corn, bananas, and sugar cane. There were quite a bit of people both on full day and half day excursions, and only 5 elephants, so a little chaotic. I did actually feel bad for the elephants, though. We did learn about the elephants’ backstories on how they came to be at EJS, and it broke my heart. Several came from logging camps, others came from riding camps, and one came from a hotel, where she was required to “dance” (which meant shake her head and sway her body) and was beaten if she didn’t.

Elephant Jungle Sanctuary was able to save two new elephants 3-days and the day before our visit. These elephants had two very different personalities. The one who came the day before was kind and gentle. The other female elephant had such badly broken spirit and couldn’t be around humans as it was aggressive. It had to be habilitated to learn how to be free from the abuse and riding.

It was heartbreaking to hear her story, but she was one of the elephants who we got to walk with in the jungle, and that was special. Chris and I spent our time during the hike with this precious elephant. I think we both enjoyed watching her get to be an elephant again in the jungle, pulling in trees and plants, scratching her body against a tree and just walking.

When we got back from the trek, it was water time. Chris held the hose for the two elephants to drink, and when it was Grandma’s turn (83year old elephant), she ran away so quickly when Chris attempted to rinse her off. We did get to witness a first with the newest elephant, named Aom Ngung. She got to experience the shower, and you can see the pure happiness in her eyes!

The mid-day break was a bit strange. To start, It was a two-hours long. It started out with lunch, which was delicious. It also included a 45-minute poo paper arts and crafts with a brief explanation of the process. I was hoping to get my hands dirty and attempt to make my own paper, as was Chris but whatever. We still made it fun, and the people in our group were easy to talk too.

Then the kayaking. Oh, the kayaking. It was kayaking, in the middle of a hot sunny day, in basically a swamp. Not to mention, there was no dock or stairs or platform or anything to help us get on or off the kayak. Kind of a complete waste of time, but whatever.

We were then shuttled to another one of the camps (they have 3 or 4) for the afternoon session. We joined with another decent sized group of tourists with 5 elephants.

It started with the “mud bath,” which was an odd experience, but the elephants seemed to enjoy as almost all were splashing themselves with mud.

It was off to the swimming hole next, which none of the elephants even hesitated to get into the water. They immediately dunked their bodies into the water. They kept spitting water and dunking their heads. It was quite a sight to see. Although our time at EJS was not perfect, and slightly a let down on some things, the time we spent with elephants was pretty special!

Our time with the elephants was completed, and it was time to head back into town. Once we returned, we showered then headed to find food. It was at dinner that we decided on our “free day’s” excursion, which we decided on scooters. After dinner, it was off to sleep. This actually became our norm for the trip: return from an excursion, shower, head out on the town for food, go back to the hostel, and go to bed. The best part was that as Chris and I headed to bed (every night of our trip in fact), our dorm mates were heading out on the town. Actually benefitted us in the long run as we were kind of able to get good night sleeps.

TO BE CONTINUED…because of the number of excursions and adventures Chris and I went on, I broke this trip into 3 different blogs to make for a better reading experience!

****Disclaimer: I know this isn’t going to make everyone who reads this happy. There is so much information: good, bad, correct, incorrect, false, and accurate information, going around about ethical animal travels and excursions. It’s tough to know what to think without truly experiencing it. I will not ride elephants, that much is clear, and I have my own opinions on the elephant excursion matter. I do live here in Thailand and hear, see, and learn A LOT about it, but I’m not going to get into it. I’m not one for cyberbullying, trolling, and cyber arguments, so I’m not going to get into it. I felt that our experience, although far from perfect, was insightful, and was special. Please keep your negative comments to yourself. This is a personal blog on personal experiences. Thank you.****

A Piece of Pai

Back in December, on a long weekend, a few of my fellow foreign teacher friends attempted to travel to a small town in the northwest corner of Thailand. This small town is a popular travel destination for many westerners, and we were all intrigued to visit. However, those plans did not happen according to plan. Welcome to the life of a traveling English teacher in a foreign country.

Thankfully, as the school year ended, I knew I’d have a little gap before my friend from America was here for a week visit, and it was the perfect opportunity to take the crazy route from Lampang to the town of Pai. Haven’t heard of Pai? That’s okay. Let me summarize it for you…one word…TURNS.

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What My First Semester of Teaching Has Taught Me

The date was October 16th, 2018 and I was fresh off the mini-bus from Chiang Mai to Lampang. Little did I know what was going to be in store for me when I arrived at my high school English Department office. But then again, isn’t that was life and travel is really about, expect the unexpected?!

I’m not going to sit here ramble on about how, “I’m a different person than I was six months ago” or “my life has changed so much in six months”, because in all reality, if these statements weren’t true, I didn’t do this whole live and work-abroad thing correctly. Isn’t it sort of a given fact that these statements hold true?!

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