Thailand: Expect the Unexpected in Chiang Mai and Bangkok
As we boarded our plane from Malaysia to Bangkok, Thailand we were extremely excited to see a country we had heard so much about. We can sum up our time in Thailand with 3 words: kindness, laughter, and weird shit. Bangkok and Chiang Mai were full of many unexpected experiences, but also many adventures we’ll never forget.We will be returning to Thailand later to experience the islands so this blog focuses on our experiences in the mainland: Chiang Mai and Bangkok. Here is the good, the bad and the unexpected by GoPro and Blog:
Bangkok: A Day at Bumrungrad International Hospital
We didn’t make a list of things we did NOT want to do while traveling, but if we had, going to a hospital in Southeast Asia definitely would have been on that list. After finding a strange looking mole on Johnny’s leg while swimming in the waterfalls in Langkawi, we decided it would be best for him to have it looked at while we were in a place with pretty good health care. Bangkok was that place. Next thing we knew, we had an appointment with a dermatologist at Bumrungrad International Hospital.
I spent the entire walk to the hospital preparing myself for a hospital that might not be quite up to our expectations and repeatedly telling Johnny that the doctor would take one look and say it’s fine…right?!?! Well, I was wrong on both accounts. Walking into Bumrungrad Hospital was like walking into a five star hotel. There were fancy cars lining the entry driveway, customer service agents kindly making sure everyone knew where they should go, marble floors, fountains, multiple Starbucks on different floors, and free WiFi. Their check-in process was super-efficient and they even kept their appointments on schedule—what a novel idea!!! Our arrival into Bumrungrad gave me a big sigh of relief.
Unfortunately, I was also wrong about the doctor’s diagnosis. She took one look and said, “no, I don’t like that. Let’s remove”. Okay, Johnny would officially be having a mole removed…IN THAILAND. Welcome to our life. We’re sitting in a waiting room in Bangkok after some street food noodles waiting for Johnny to get 5 stitches. FIVE. All went well with said removal and we just had to wait a week for the results. So, worst case we’d be heading home and treating skin cancer OR best case, we’d be chasing waterfalls in Laos the next week. GOOD NEWS—all was good with the mole and we are currently in the airport awaiting our flight to Laos. YAHOO!! As they say, adventure awaits and we’re glad we’re healthy enough to continue!
Bangkok: Overextending Our Stay in Malls
Just as we didn’t expect to spend time in a hospital, we also didn’t expect to spend much time in malls while traveling. Wrong again. Turns out, Bangkok has a pretty sick (air conditioned) mall scene. The shopping is amazing with high-end retailers, unique market-like stores, and the world’s greatest food courts. I was super sad that my backpack prevented me from going on a shopping spree, but our experiences in the food courts made me feel much better. The food courts are ENORMOUS with a million choices for delicious, cheap Thai food like fried chicken and rice and Pad Thai. We highly recommend heading to Terminal 21 Mall for the unique shopping experience and Central World Mall for the top-notch food court, but both malls don’t disappoint in either category.
The food scene outside of the malls is also great in Bangkok. You can find tons of Thai restaurants lining the streets with super cheap prices. We all loved our Thai food and high-energy owner at Tealicious. We also finally got Johnny some tacos (since it’s October and it was important to Johnny to join our good friend Rick Wildt in his annual quest to eat tacos every day for the month he calls “TacoRocktober” – for a good laugh, follow along with Rick on his instagram account @wildtrick) at Charley Brown’s on Souk 11. The food was okay, but cured our homesickness for quesadillas, guac, tacos, and margaritas. Souk 11 is definitely worth a visit as it has super cool restaurants and bars.
Bangkok: Reclining with Buddha
We couldn’t leave Bangkok without doing at least some sightseeing. So, after our travel/real life friends, Jeff and Catherine Cunning met up with us in Bangkok (YAYAYAY!!!) we headed out for a day of sightseeing. We took a long boat down the river to Wat Pho and Grand Palace. The long boat was a blast and a quick way to see the riverfront of Bangkok. This was our first stop on our Southeast Asia temple circuit and it didn’t disappoint. Wat Pho’s endless gold details and Buddhas are amazing and the enormity of the golden Reclining Buddha in Wat Pho is truly unbelievable. We also learned a very important message via the signs at Wat Pho: BUDDAH BAR DECORATIONS AND BUDDAH TATTOS ARE DISREPSECTFUL. FINE, I won’t get a Buddah tattoo.
After Wat Pho, we headed to the Grand Palace, which is still used by the King and his family (side note: Bangkok-ites LOVE the King and his picture is EVERYWHERE). This stop was also pretty, but definitely a bit overrated. Our personal view: it could be skipped if you want to save the entry fee.
We also decided to be super American and check out SkyBar, where Hangover II was filmed. While this bar does have a sick view of Bangkok, we created a new travel maneuver called “skybar-ing it” while visiting. “Skybar-ing it” is when a group of tourists enter a popular establishment, get a table, eat a handful of peanuts, take in the views, take one look at the prices on the drink menu, and turn right back around and leave. No shame in this budget-focused game. No view is worth a $30 gin and tonic, especially when you can go to the bar next door and get a beer for under $2.
Bangkok: Getting an International Haircut
Witnessing Johnny get a haircut in Bangkok was one of the funniest things I have ever experience. The barber at Best Salon and Spa took grooming a westerner very seriously. The barber took over an hour to cut Johnny’s luscious locks into his self-proclaimed “masterpiece”. During this process, the barber cut every section of Johnny’s hair with no less than 3 scissors/clippers. I totally lost it when the barber proceeded to put white powder all of Johnny’s face and take selfies with his iPad because without a photo no one would believe he cut this westerner’s hair. LOLOLOL.
Chiang Mai: Living the Roommate Life
After leaving Bangkok, we headed to Chiang Mai with Jeff and Catherine. Anytime we are traveling with these two it is guaranteed that the days will be filled with belly laughs and our time in Chiang Mai was no exception because the 4 of us got to be roomies the whole time. Our first hostel, Counting Sheeps, was amazing and we got to share a queen-sized bunk bed with the Cunnings. We cracked up telling jokes and stories between the top and bottom bunks.
Our second family room at Diva’s Hostel and was a bit of a different experience. While we still got to have a slumber party every night complete with a featured film on Netflix via my laptop, the room was a JOKE. Here are the things from our at Diva’s Hostel that we will always laugh about:
- The fact the pipe running from the sink didn’t actually meet the ground so anytime we washed our hands or brushed our teeth the water poured onto our feet. We lovingly called this “toothpaste toes”.
- Being intercepted by a cockroach entering our room
- Running from a mouse in the hostel restaurant
- “toilet showers”: the shower and toilet were in the same small space, which included the shower shooting water directly at the toilet and toilet paper every time any of us showered.
- Shower squeegee: the bathroom included a friendly reminder to squeegee the bathroom floor after showers or we would be left walking through standing water from our “toilet showers”.
- TP rules: the water system couldn’t handle paper in the toilets so we were asked to throw all used toilet paper in a trash bin. Yep.
- The missing portion of the ceiling that had been covered by a piece of cloth duct-taped to the ceiling. We kindly referred to this as the mouse town hall or cockroach haven.
- The AC, which broke halfway through our time in the hostel and resulted in the manager filling our room with regular fans including mounting one to the wall
Full disclosure, Diva Hostel was $20 a night FOR ALL 4 OF US, so we look at this experience lovingly as it gave us extra room in our budget for eating and drinking our way through Chiang Mai.
Chiang Mai: Drinking With the Locals
The beers in our first hostel, Counting Sheep, seemed over priced at about $3 for a 25 oz beer, LOL. Our new hostel friend, John (pictured in the tank above), let us know that there was a “corner bar” that had cheaper beer so we headed to that bar grab beers to bring back to the hostel to drink while we taught our hostel friends how to play the card game Kings (never growing up???). The “corner bar” was everything and more. Picture a worn down bar cart with open bottles of liquor and 4-shared cups surrounded by hammered Thai men taking shots out of the shared cups. It was the best. We were able to snag beers for about $2 a piece and hang with the locals. Our favorites, Neo (complete with Matrix references when he introduced himself) and self-proclaimed “Jackie Chan”, sang us 90’s power ballads complete with backup dancing, offered to drive us 20 minutes to karaoke, and told us all about their favorite American actresses. Again, this was an unexpected night, but definitely one of our favorites in Chiang Mai.
Chiang Mai: Swimming in Elephant Mud (Shit) Water
When heading to Chiang Mai, EVERYONE, we mean everyone, tells you to do an elephant experience. After lots of research on finding an affordable, but ethical elephant park (i.e. where the elephants that are treated well and you don’t ride them) we ended up heading to Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. Here we got to feed the elephants, take them to a “mud spa”, and wash them in the river. None of us could quite figure out how to summarize this experience well, so here are our takeaways:
- It’s super cool to be so close to the elephants. You truly get to feed them, hug them, pet them, and observe them very closely.
- The elephants seemed to be happy and well taken care of, although we did not get to see where they live when not interacting with visitors (they said they do not have a fence though).
- The mud spa is literally being part of a mud fight in elephant shit water. You get in the muddy water and rub the mud onto the elephants. We had a ton of young backpackers in our group who took this activity as an opportunity to mud wrestle and throw mud everywhere. As a result, I got mud shit water in my eyes multiple times. During all this, the guides were finding pieces of elephant shit and throwing them out of the muddy water. It’s super disgusting. Meanwhile, our group of “old people” were worried about disease and malaria as there were giant mosquitos swimming in the water.
- Washing the elephants in the river was more fun. The water is still pretty gross, but at least flowing. It was really fun to see the elephants laying and playing in the water. Safety was a bit concerning because the elephants would just flop their entire bodies over to lay in the water whenever, which would definitely result in death if you got in the way. Again, we watched at a safe distance. You’re welcome moms!!
- In general, we think we ended up with such a young group because the price was cheap. So, if you’re going to Chiang Mai we highly suggest picking a park where you’ll have smaller groups or are assigned one elephant for the day. We think this would have made it a more meaningful experience.
Chiang Mai: Mountain Motor Biking
In order to be good Southeast Asia tourists, we dedicated a day in Chiang Mai to take motorbikes up the mountain to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep Temple. Although it seems intimidating at first, motor biking has been one of our favorite activities. It’s a blast to see the different landscapes in the area and have the freedom to explore at our own pace. We stopped at the Pha Ngerb Waterfall on the way to the temple, which can be reached by road or by hiking the Monk’s trail, which is marked by orange pieces of cloth tied to trees along the path. The waterfall was very easy to access and was very pretty with several tiers.
Then, we continued up the mountain, which was a windy, gorgeous drive. The Wat Phra That Doi Suthep temple is one of the most sacred temples in Thailand and definitely not disappointing. You head up 306 steps to find gorgeous architecture with golden details, shrines, and statues.
Chiang Mai: Obsessing Over Thai Food
Confession: we order delivery Thai food literally every week at home so, obviously, we were super pumped to enjoy local Thai food. It was everything we wanted and more. There was great Thai food in the restaurants and on the street. We loved the Pad Thai, chicken stir-fry with peanuts, chicken coconut soup (obsessed), tom yum soup, sticky rice with mango, and spicy chicken with chili and basil. We highly recommend hitting up the Sunday night market for delicious street food. As for restaurants, we really enjoyed various international cuisines offered at Sweet Chili, Girasole, D Bistro, and Taj Mahal.
The highlights of our culinary experience in Chiang Mai were taking a cooking class at Tom Yum Thai Cooking School and visiting the Sunday Night Market. Our class took us to the market and then to a local home to make several Thai dishes. The class was filled with really awesome people from around the world and the instructors made the cooking super fun. We made Pad Thai, Pad See Ew, Tom Yum Soup (Johnny’s favorite!!), Chicken Coconut Soup (Kyle’s favorite!!), Spring Rolls, Papaya Salad, Red Curry, and Green Curry. We can’t wait to buy a wok and have a Thai themed dinner party when we get home!!
The Sunday Night Market filled a main street of Chiang Mai with enough street food to feed a giant and lots of crafts to purchase. We loved walking through the shops, listening to a street band, and eating even more Pad Thai. Don’t miss it if you’re in Chiang Mai on a Sunday!!
Other must-dos in Chiang Mai:
- Get super cheap Thai massages on every corner
- Have a custom suit made at CM Custom Tailor
- Hit up bars like 48 Garage, Zoe Yellow, and Spicy
- Go shopping in Chinatown
- Play golf at Chiang Mai Gymkhana Golf Club
*We will be traveling with Jeff and Catherine for the next month which rules. They also have an awesome blog about their RTW travels. Check them out at www.thecunningtravels.wordpress.com