The Portland of Thailand 

It was an early morning wake up call for us to head out of Railey- which, to be honest, I was ok with because that meant capturing the sunrise while making our journey back to the mainland area and over to the Krabi airport. In order to get back to the mainland, we were loaded onto a tractor pulled by a trailer (yes, you heard that right), driven out over the low tide to a long tail boat. The long tail boat took us to the closest dock, about minute journey, and then a taxi took us to the airport where we took off to Chiang Mai. Goodbye beach vibes, help city surrounding by luscious jungle covered mountains. 
We were greeted in Chiang Mai by our gracious Airbnb host- Airbnb hosts in Thailand really go above and beyond we have discovered! Killing time before check in found us in the “old city” of Chiang Mai, which is the central part of the city and surrounded by a crumbling brick wall and moat that used to surround and protect the city at one point in time. We found a very random little restaurant featuring Chiang Mai’s best known dish: Khao Soi, which was a creamy spicy yellow noodle soup topped with more crunchy noodles. Dessert was mango sticky rice- absolutely delicious. 

A solid nap in an air conditioned room does the body good, and we had some extra energy to get up and explore the Sunday Night Market. We were a little overwhelmed at the size and popularity of this pop up market- it was really neat to see. Of course I was convinced into some hand carved wooden elephant whistles for my children by a very convincing Thai salesman “oh please, my uncle hand carve these!” I of course regretted my decision almost immediately! 

We actually hadn’t had much street food since we had arrived in Thailand, so the market was the perfect place to try it out. Kellen picked up a few marinated chicken satay sticks, marinated in what tasted like a teriyaki sauce, as well as a rice type egg roll thing (these are obviously the proper names, can’t you tell?) while I snagged a corn on the cob and some chicken satay as well. Once we get overwhelmed with the crowds, we escaped to a bar called MoonPie overlooking the crowds and drank some iced cold fin and tonics while we watched the hustle and bustle of the market continue late into the night. 

The next day we found a place for breakfast and coffee very easily, which we discovered come very often in Chiang Mai, which is why I told Kellen it reminded me a bit of the “Portland of Thailand.” Hip, cool, and filled with coffee shops, it was the perfect place to explore. We ended up renting a scooter nearby our condo and got really lost. When we looked at the map, we navigated to be beside the river, which we figured could only take us to good things. That route brought us out onto the highway and heading to Mae Rim, which we were excited to start seeing signs about waterfalls, so began to just follow those. About halfway through our journey we encountered a police roadblock and was flagged over. He asked for our license in very broken English, kellen handed him his Washington license (haha) and the cop pointed to a paper that said “500 baht” and made a motion to pay him. It was a very rough and consuming conversation where we tried to ask about proper licensing and permits and ended with us handing him the cash, him shaking our hand, and whispering “go go go!” Wait- did we just unintentionally bribe a cop not thailand? After lots more research and conversation with other travelers, we came to found out this is not at all uncommon and we most likely had been taken advantage of a bit. Oh well, since 500 baht was the equivalent of $15 US dollars and we weren’t too disappointed since it made for a pretty funny experience and story, 

We made it to the waterfalls, and I literally didn’t care I wasn’t wearing a suit, it was SO hot that day, I jumped right into the water for relief. 

Later that evening when we made it back to the city, we got picked up by a local photographer who drove us around looking for photo locations- this seems possibly not so significant but honestly was such a fun experience for us. He was a local to Chiang Mai and spoke really great English, so we finally had a chance to ask all sorts of questions to a local who could share with us. My first question was an important one: why are the beds so hard here?!? Apparently Thai people like firm beds, haha. He joked that he had become our tour guide that evening, and it really felt like it, since we learned some of the most useful and interesting facts from him about living life in Thailand. 

Our session was a fun one and we were absolutely exhausted from such a fun day, we crashed that night in anticipation of an early morning filled with elephants 🙂 stay tuned. 

On to Paradise

Our taxi ride from Khao Sok National Park to the southern area province of Krabi took us 2.5 hours, that is, with the usual stops along the way we have come to accept by all drivers in Thailand- refreshments and errands they have built into the trip. Rain began to pour in buckets as we came into the city, and when I say pour, brig from Seattle, you’d think I knew what that meant. I’ve quickly come to realize that rain in Thailand is nothing quite like the rain back home. Stepping outside for just a quick second has you drenched from head to toe, and running to the bathroom meant splashing in warm puddles up to my calves. It was quite the experience- warm rain- I wouldn’t have minded it much had I not felt bad for soaking the entire inside of the taxi. We arrived to our Airbnb in Ao among, Krabi, and we were exhausted from the travel and hike earlier that day. We ordered “room service” which was a funny experience in itself, as our Airbnb was just a house amongst other homes and the room service was just delivery from a local restaurant arranged by our gracious host. We had no idea what the surrounding area really looked like, having arrived so late, but we were eager to find out in the morning after a good nights rest.

In the morning we caught a taxi into town- the taxis are here are really just pick up trucks with a cover and benches to sit. Our first observation of the town was the neighborhood surrounding our Airbnb, which was a mixture of really nice small homes and then literally across the street shanty houses made of scrap material. It was very strange and a bit eye opening, as we’d soon come to discover is the apparent theme here in Thailand. 

The town of ao Nong itself is a road along the beach filled with shops and restaurants. We grabbed breakfast and wandered down to the beach. Along the very left hand side were stairs along the cliff that led into the jungle. We followed them to find that they led to the resort on the other side, with a beautiful stretch of beach. We swam out to a cove we saw in the rock and sat inside it for a while, I told kellen I felt like a mermaid lying in the cove letting the waves splash over me. 🙂

After all that hard work, it was obviously time for a massage, which, in Thailand is literally more common than a Starbucks in Seattle. In fact, you can’t walk more than 30 feet it seems without being propositioned for a massage. I found the most picturesque of them all in my opinion, an open air deck lined with mats, and had a back, neck and shoulder massage (this one much less traumatizing than my experience in Bangkok), my toes and nails painted, all for a whopping $9 US dollars. Oh Thailand, I do love you.

After an amazing lunch including some delicious pineapple fried rice, kellen attempted to find a grocery store but came up unsuccessful. I had to rescue him with a tuk tuk, thanks in major part to google translator who helped me explain my situation to the driver. 

The next day we ventured on a tour to see some of the islands just off the coast. It sounds a bit more romantic than it really was, to be honest, as the tour company seems to have a very effective way of jamming as many people as possible into these boats, and providing an “English guide” who barely told us anything that day, haha. Still, we had fun, snorkeling off the boat, seeing the amazing Phi Phi island and watching the curious and quite aggressive monkeys on bamboo island. The guide warned us not to take anything out to this island with us because the monkeys have been known to steal things from tourists, they especially love water bottles. A group of monkeys had obviously stolen a woman’s scarf at some point and were playing tug of war with it, I found this absolutely fascinating and told kellen I could probably watch monkeys all day. 

I was eagerly anticipating our trip to Railey Beach the next day, which is set on the peninsula of Krabi but completely disconnected from the mainland because of cliffs, so you can only access it from long tail boat. This, my friends, is absolutely as romantic as it sounds: Railey beach did NOT disappoint- it is surrounded by limestone cliffs and a lush rainforest. We rented a kayak and explored around the cove on the left hand side, this had to be one of the highlights of the trip so far in my opinion, the scenery is absolutely breathtaking. 

We walked along the beach and found what was called the “walking street” which we quickly learned was just the street that takes you to the resorts. Again, a very strange feeling of wealth and poverty as you must walk by lots of shanty houses and tents in order to reach the resorts on the other side. 

We had made a mistake in booking our Airbnb, so we had to leave Saturday morning (we were sad to leave for sure, since the host was absolutely incredible and the Airbnb itself was a whole home to ourselves with a private pool). We had booked one night in Railey, which we didn’t know until we got here but that meant lugging our luggage all the way via long tail boat to the resort. Longtail boats are absolutely an experience in themselves, you have to wade into the water to get on them, maneuver yourself up a rickety ladder, and swing your legs in to get in. So with luggage, you can imagine what a funny experience that was :).

Arriving to our resort had us quickly forgetting the woes of leaving our amazing air bnb- within the first two hours we discovered a path which followed along a cave wall that popped you out onto the most amazing and picturesque beach so far, in my opinion, phranang cave beach. Describing it almost feels like not doing it justice- it was just breathtaking, swimming below a cave wall, watching the drips from the top fall into the water from 500 feet above. 

I had been looking forward to eating at an amazing restaurant called “The Grotto”- which happened to be right on this beach- and was by far our biggest expenditure of the trip, but the food was delicious. 

More monkeys on the way back to our room for the night, not to mention the giant iguana we saw consume another lizard under our table at lunch, we are now snuggled up in our bed listening to the sound of thunderstorm. We leave early for a 9am flight to the north- Chiang Mai- more exciting adventures to come!

Cave Trekking

“You ready for big spider?” Asked our guide. 
“No sir. Thank you. Goodbye”
….Is what I wanted to say but…it was too late. We had already hiked 2.5km through the jungle to the entrance of the cave, and it was time to go in. We strapped on our giant neon green headlamps and followed. 

I wasn’t expecting the length and time we’d be in there. I knew we’d be walking through water at some points, but I had no idea we’d be maneuvering through narrow wedged boulders and swimming through sections. It was dark, there were bats lining the ceilings, and giant spiders on the walls, some bigger than my hand. To say I wasn’t nervous and scared would be a massive lie- I was eagerly anticipating the light at the end of the tunnel (literally). After around 40 minutes trekking through the cave, we finally found that light, and I took a deep breath. It was an experience I won’t ever forget. 

A House that Floats

It’s 10pm and I’m sitting on the dock just outside of our floating lake house anchored in Khao Sok National park. We are surrounded by the jungle, it’s noises, it’s peacefulness. I’ve just taken an evening swim in the warm lake water and stared up at the stars, reflecting on the day’s events. After waking up in our bungalow this morning, early still due to a bit of lingering jet lag I am sure, we packed up and headed to the open air restaurant to connect to wifi and call the kids-I couldn’t wait to tell them about the cave temple monkeys. We discovered they were at their cousin Cohen’s house and wanted absolutely nothing to do with talking to us other than a brief “hi Mom, hi dad!”-a bittersweet feeling for sure. It’s good to know even when we are away they are being loved and cared for so well. 

After breakfast we boarded a van (called “minibus” here in Thailand) and drove into the nearby town to pick up some provisions for the day’s adventure. Our tour guide said he was buying food for us to eat out on the lake, right there from the market. We walked around the market and saw all kinds of interesting and, dare I say, questionable types of foods- the heads of pigs and all other body parts laying out, fish and seafood or all kinds, pink eggs, and other fascinating things to look at. I didn’t have my camera but since this wasn’t really a tourist type market, more of a local one, I would have felt strange taking pictures any way. 

Hopping back in the minibus and a bit more drive, we arrived at the pier for Khao Sok, which was busy with tourists boarding longtail boats to transport to their accommodations around the lake. The boat ride to our lakehouses took us just under an hour, observing the amazing lake and scenery as we went, the turquoise green water and jutted mountains covered in lush jungles and rock face cliffs. I’ve never felt water this warm before, being a Pacific Northwest girl. It is seriously amazing. 

The rest of the day was spent kayaking, swimming, and enjoying food provided by the family who lives here at the lakehouses. Just before dinner our guide took us out on an evening “safari” which had us pulling into coves around the lake and spotting monkeys swinging from the trees. We met a young British couple named Ellie and Mitch, and finished the evening drinking Chang beers on the large floating common area, listening to stories of their traveling adventures through Southeast Asia so far.

Jungle Bungalows

It was another early start to our morning as we headed to the local airport to catch a plane from Bangkok to Surathani. I have discovered that Thai people know how to make a good latte, so naturally I’ve decided I can stay. Kellen’s attempt at ordering a coffee this morning left him with just a shot of espresso, illustrating I believe exactly what being a 6’3″ man in Thailand really feels like:

Navigating to Khao Sok National Park was an experience, since there is no direct transportation, we had to take one bus to the city center, and then a mini bus from there. Signing up for the minibus was literally in a family’s house, which I’m coming to discover is not that uncommon here for businesses- they run them out of their homes, which is just basically an open air living concept with children running around and family life happening right there amongst the business. Being a mom, of course I loved watching the kids and couldn’t help but thinking how different life is here for these children, and yet, oddly the same! I laughed when I watched the Mom tell her little boy, barely 3 maybe, to go sweep, and his tiny little body carrying the big broomstick to complete the task. 

The Minibus was quite the native Thai experience, it certainly wasn’t a bus made for tourists, since all of the other passengers he picked up were local residents. He told us it would be 1 hour to Khao Sok, so we had to laugh when our driver kept stopping to complete random errands along the road- including getting gas, picking out his lunch at the local market, picking up some corn at a different market for later- every stop kellen and I looked at each other and started laughing. So different from back home. The other passengers on the bus kept turning aliens to watch us, they seemed really confused as to how we had ended up there, haha. The one hour trip turned into two thanks to all of our drivers pit stops that provides us extra time to scope out what life is like here- but we eventually made it to the park. 

The place we are staying is called the Smiley Bungalows- it is literally a row stilted bungalow houses lined up inside the jungle. There is a hammock on our porch and an incredible view of the luscious green jungle mountains out in front of us. The room is extremely basic, just two beds and a shower with a hole in the ground that shoots right out onto the ground below, no plumbing hooked up for it. There is a toilet with plumbing, however, which I was relieved to see. 

The “restaurant” here is once again just another family business, and we took no time wasted in ordering another round of phad thai and cashew chicken. 

After lunch, we were told the only activity outside of the national park itself (which we have planned for tomorrow) is the Cave Monkey Temple to feed the monkeys, a local temple and business where monkeys have learned they can get food, so we were off to explore. 

When we arrived, we bought tickets and a bag of peanuts from a young boy and his mother from a tiny shack at the entrance. I grabbed the bag of peanuts and we began walking and I was not prepared in the LEAST for the bombard of monkeys. One big one came running at me, climbed us my legs and literally grabbed the entire bag of peanuts out of my hands. So much for feeding the monkeys, haha! We still got plenty of pictures of them, as they played and foraged for other food leftover by other past tourists. It was such a cool experience and probably one I’ll never forget- being under the tree as they swung in the branches. As we were observing, it began to pour, and it was one of the coolest experiences finding shelter in a cave on the side of a cliff, watching these monkeys play and eat. 

Walking back it began to thunder, so we were happy to be back at the bungalow just in time to see lightning cross the sky in our view from the porch. 

The rest of the evening was spent with some drinks and swinging on the porch swing in the open air bar, talking about life and overlooking the jungle and bungalows from our spot. When we went back to our place, it took no short of 5 minutes for me to fall asleep in the hammock, listening to the sounds of the jungle. 

Tuk Tuk’s and Thai Massage 

After a total of 30+ hours of travel and both of us not feeling great on the airplane, we arrived Bangkok early in the morning hours. We noted how the highway looked very similar to the US, peppered with 7-11’s and even a Harry Davidson shop as we drove in. It was 4am in Bangkok, but as we exited the highway our first glimpse of city life was a table full of local men eating street food- despite the early hour. We quickly realized what we had been told about Bangkok was true, it seems to be a busy, noisy city that rarely sleeps. We, however, made it to our hotel room and crashed since we were beyond exhausted from the long trip. 

The next day we grabbed breakfast at the cafe next door to the hotel, it wasn’t too far from our comfort zone- bacon, eggs, and coffee, but nevertheless, delicious. It was also very apparent quickly how kind the Thai people are, lots of smiles all around. 

We booked a river city guide tour with an agent next to the hotel as well, who even followed the tuk tuk we took to the river to make sure he didn’t make any extra “stops” along the way- a common practice for tuk tuk drivers who get a sort of kick back commission for the customers they bring in. 

We boarded a long tail boat and cruised through the canal, an odd mixture of wealthy homes overlooking over the river and shanty shacks peppering it as well. It was an experience, to say the least, and one kellen and I enjoyed fully as we pondered what life living on this canal would be like. 

Next stop was the Grand Palace, which had Disneyland l-like crowds but nevertheless a must do of Bangkok. We both agreed it was a great one time see. Beautiful architecture and peek into the Buddhist culture and religion. 

After that, it was time for our much anticipated phad thai experience, which we were happy to find at a very non de script hole in the wall restaurant with a sliding glass door and air conditioning, which was a relief from the muggy hot weather outside. 

After lunch and a rest at the hotel, I decided to try my first Thai massage experience and boy….was it an experience! The place was lined with actual twin beds to lay on, and my masseuse performed all kinds of techniques that made me laughing hysterically on the inside- including climbing on the actual bed with me, wrapping her legs around mine and moving my body in all sorts of ways I’mnot really sure if it has been moved before! I kept thinking “this can’t be real” as I tried to suppress laughter followed by the feeling of “oh man that feels good.” At one point, I laid on my stomach and I am not kidding, she actually crouched on my legs and walked up my back. It reminded me of my kids attempts at back massage except she actually knew what she was doing, and despite the awkwardness of it all, it really did feel amazing. It was an experience I certainly won’t forget and I went back to the hotel excited to share the humorous experience with kellen. 

Next up was Khao Son road, which we ended up on eventually but the path we took to get there led us to another area lined with a street market and restaurants. Every other booth seemed to be an open air massage parlor, but since I had already had my experience for the day I opted to pass, haha. 

I was amazed at how cool and adorable I found all the clothing ad jewelry- it really was overwhelming how m-“any things I loved. Kellen tested out his haggling skills on a backpack right away and I couldn’t be more proud of him, haggling feels like a bit of a game that you can win by sticking to your original offer. 

We turned down another road and found a magical restaurant/bar serving happy hour. I was basically in heaven with the giant trees, twinkling lights and 100 Baht pinya coladas (that’s about $3 US). Thailand has not disappointed us so far as the bill for all of our food plus two drinks each that day came to $30. We made our way to Khao SAN road, which I can only describe as a busy street market mixed with a bit of the Las Vegas strip, lit signs illuminating above the bustle of the crowds. I was once again fascinated by all of the vendors, slightly disgusted by the fried insects (I could have gone without seeing a fried spider) and mesmerized by the atmosphere of it all. Negotiating a tuk tuk at the end of the street to take us back to the hotel, we felt like we were getting our bearings on this big city. By the end of the day, kellen was researching buying a vacation home here on the internet, purely or of curiosity but really- who knows where this life will lead? In the meantime, its fun to dream, and there’s no one I’d rather experience this all with than him.