Vacation Mode: 30-Days in Thailand
About 50 miles north of Bangkok sits the ruins of the capital of the Kingdom of Siam, Ayutthaya. Settled on a large island in the middle of a river, Ayutthaya was once called the “Venice of the East” because of its trade. It was a gateway of food, culture, music, and people. Ayutthaya now lies in ruin, after a Burmese invasion, nine years before its Declaration of Independence. And while that chapter has closed, the Thailand of today is still a gateway of sorts, filled with lush natural beauty, amazing food, and kind people.
Best of all, Thailand is extremely affordable. In general, you can find a nice hotel for less than $50 a night, or about $16 a night at a hostel. Scooters are the main form of transportation. They rent one for 150-250 Baht per day, or about $5 to $8. Believe me, it’s easy to stay within your budget. I bought freshly prepared meals, drinks included, for about $13/day. Everyone knows Pad Thai, that sweet and savory stir-fired rice noodle dish filled with tamarind and peanuts, but I made sure to try all the different curries, soups, and seafood Thailand offered including the popular Thai beer, Leo or Chang found at the local 7-11. Yes, there are 7-11 convenience stores all over Thailand. Even the famous Thai Massage is an inexpensive indulgence worth it’s time in gold. For $12 (400 Baht) I got a full hour, full body massage.
Visiting Asia for the first time, I had some anxiety about experiencing a whole new way of life. With its predominately Buddhist culture, temples are commonplace yet awe-inspiring to behold. We all know what Karma is. Putting good out into the universe and hoping to receive it in kind. That Buddhist principal is what I seem to encounter whenever I meet Thai people. It seems to me, most were happy to help and proud to show off their food, music, or culture. They were also eager to learn from us. I could see two sides of the world mixing together. Sitting at a beach bar, I heard a Siamese band start their set with Tom Petty, and end with the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I was at home even 8,000 miles away.
30-days & nights
I spent a month in Thailand visting Bangkok, Ayutthaya, Koh Chang, Phuket, Koh Phi Phi, Krabi, Koh Smaui, and Chiang Mai. Bangkok is the bustling capital, with its grand Buddhist temples, night markets, and modern skyline. The bumper-to-bumper traffic made me wish for my personal Nirvana.
The Grand Palace is a must, filled with the great works of Thai Kings. You can see the giant reclining Buddha at Wat Pho, and a stunning mosaic temple of Wat Arun. The Rod Rai Night Market is a sight to behold. Think of an antique roadshow, a car lot, a food market, and a bar scene all mixed in one. Dine in Chinatown, and then embolden yourself for the famous nightlife with a stroll down Soi Cowboy.
On the western side of the country is Krabi, and the islands of Koh Phi Phi, Phuket, and Koh Samui. Each is unique but all have natural beauty and famous nightlife. Koh Phi Phi, in particular, is worth mentioning for its truly stunning beauty, top-rated beaches, scuba, and snorkeling options. Koh Phi Phi is for partying hard, then recouping on the beach for the next night of partying.
A cultural capital located in the mountains and surrounded by lush national parks, Chaing Mai has a beauty is all its own. It’s a popular place for expats, and those who want to meet some of Thailand’s most famous residents, the Asian elephants. At Blue Tao Elephant village, an elephant sanctuary, where the animals roam free, I was also able to witness the Loy Krathong Festival, a stunning display in which thousands of lanterns are lit and released into the air. On a clear night, it looks like a new batch of stars ascending into the sky. It truly was a life-affirming moment, for me.
Elephant Island is the second largest island in the country and my favorite place there. Being on the eastern side, it’s a bit more remote and untouched. This makes it a bit easier to sight-see without the crowds. Koh Chang also has some of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen. We took a six-hour road trip, and ferry ride, from Bangkok for about $120 for both of us. There, we stayed in a treehouse resort called Little Eden. Literally, it’s a treehouse perched in the dense tropical forest. Our outdoor shower was set within the jungle canopy. The staff was very friendly, and there is a nice open-air restaurant as well. It didn’t have all the creature comforts of home, but for $35 a night we got to live with nature.