Its been a month since I left Thailand, and at least 3 times a day, I start thinking about how much I want to go back! I'm not going to lie, Thailand wasn't very high on my bucket list, but after reading so many blogs (seriously, theres a ton on pinterest), I got excited to see what Thailand has to offer. Its a huge country with lots of islands, each place has its own sights and cultures, so we knew we wanted to see more than one place given how long it actually takes to get there. We narrowed it down to Koh Lipe and Chiang Mai. Leah and I wanted beach time and scuba diving, and we wanted to experience temples and the rich history behind Thailand.
We decided on going in March, before it got too hot and after most of the spring break tourists had left. The weather was P E R F E C T!! Hot and sunny! Our plane tickets were booked by November and not going to lie, the 14 hour flight was dreadful, wayyyyy too long! But theres no way of getting around that! We flew from Chicago straight to Tai Wan and from there into Bangkok. We stayed the night in Bangkok and caught a 45 minute flight the following morning to Hat Yai, Thailand. After landing in Hat Yai, we jumped in our pre-booked taxi to Pak Bara Pier. The transportation was through Jolly Travel, their office is located at the Pak Bar Pier, where you will then have to board a boat to get to the island. HINT: the boat ride sucked. They pack way too many people into the boat and they stop at several different spots throughout the archipelagos for people to get out and take pictures only to board again but wet and full of sand. If possible, go ahead and do yourself a favor and book a private boat to Koh Lipe!
Koh Lipe is the southern most Thai island located closest to Malaysia. Koh Lipe is the only inhabited island within the National Marine Park limits, so cool right?! The island was settled by sea gypsy's that left the main land wwwaaay back when to live on their on, practice their own religion freely, and fish for their income! Since the tourist boom throughout Thailand, their ways have changed and they've followed suit by opening up resorts and restaurants on the island.
We stayed at Ten Moons Lipe Resort on Sunrise Beach. This resort hands down, has the best beach on the island AND the best food AND the best views AND the best dogs :). It was a splurge, technically speaking, but because Thai's baht (currency) is .30 cents to our dollar here in the US, it was still super affordable. One week spent on the island was the perfect amount of time. We wanted lazy beach days, and busy diving days, check and check. The diving...you guys...seriously so amazing. I didn't see any large marine life, but the macro life is sooooo abundant and the coral is still so healthy there. I saw massive schools of fish, Giant Trevally (which I guess are huge but not really as cool as a whale shark which I sadly did not get to see!) I saw a seahorse the size of my hand, saw my first clown fish in an anemone (with babies so small they were just hatched!!!!) sea snakes, nudibranchs, swam through a wall of schooling fish, and so much more. The colors are literally out of this world. If you're into scuba diving, I would highly recommend diving in the Malaca Straight off of Koh Lipe as long as you promise to dive sustainably, PLEASE! :)
As for the beach days, as I mentioned, Ten Moons resort has the most beautiful beach on the island with the HUGE rocks (why they call Koh Lipe the Maldives of Asia) white soft sand and water so blue you have to blink twice to remember its real! HOWEVER...be prepared to see trash on the beaches! Every morning I would pick up handfuls and dispose of it properly. It washes up on the shores and there isn't much you can do about it. I was astonished at the amount of people that didn't pick up trash and didn't mind laying and swimming amongst it..like...what? Are you blind? This problem made me so sad but also so aware of how big of a problem it truly is for our entire planet. There is no ignoring it. Once you get over the shock of plastic waste on the beach, and clean it up for the day (because there will be more the next day), the beaches are gorgeous. I got a wicked dark tan, salty blond locks and immense relaxation from floating in the gorgeous turquoise salt water.
Stays and Plays
Ten Moons Lipe Resort and Restaurant
Adang Sea Divers (best dive shop on the island!)
Walking Street (endless shopping and restaurants)
Sunset Beach (bonfires and nightlight here!)
*TIP: do not drink water that didn't come from a bottle and do not eat/drink ice! I spent 3 full days with horrifying and painful sickness from drinking a slushy that I bought after getting off the stupid boat ferry, I was desperate!!. Don't do what I did.
After a full week on the island, we were ready to head North to the city for 4 full days. The transportation through Jolly Travel was round trip, so the same boat and taxi took us back to Hat Yai airport. The flight from Hat Yai to Chiang Mai was about 1.25 hours and only $45 USD! We grabbed a taxi from the airport to the hotel, Yaang Come Village and got some much needed rest in actual air conditioning.
The highlights of Chiang Mai were walking through town or taking a Tuk Tuk (so fun!) to see all the beautiful temples, including the sacred mountain top temple, Doi Suthep. The second highlight, of course, the Elephant volunteer day. Also, Thai Farm Cooking School was SO FUN!! (and delicious) I can't forget to mention the Sunday Night Market and the cute boutiques that line the streets of Old Town Chiang Mai. I brought back some gorgeous home decor! Our hotel was within walking or Tuk Tuk distance to all the shopping and restaurants. I highly recommend sight seeing as early in the morning as possible, before it gets too hot and before everything is flooded with tourist crowds. I also recommend visiting the Markets early, before or right when they open to avoid the massive, slow moving crowd.
The Elephant Nature Park is a must do when visiting Chiang Mai, its truly the best! It's a sanctuary for beautiful elephants (cats and dogs too!) whom are now living in peace after being rescued from cruel and unfortunate situations involving humans. Many were saved from the logging and tourism industries, some still suffering from injuries. My heart breaks for those that were abused but so thankful for an organization like Elephant Nature Park to make the remaining years of their lives heavenly. The organization offers several different ways to spend your time with the elephants, ranging from half day, full day to multiple volunteer days working in the park and getting to know the animals. They provide pick up and drop off so you don't have to worry about making the journey to the country side on your own. I chose the full day experience which involved feeding the elephants breakfast, washing the elephants in the river, letting them enjoy their daily mud bath, followed by a vegetarian lunch and more elephant observing. You are allowed to stand close, and touch the elephants but absolutely no riding or making the elephants "pose" for photos. The proceeds of your money spent obviously go directly to the animals and their well being! It was truly a day I will never forget and I highly recommend volunteering here!
Thai Farm Cooking School is another must do when visiting Chiang Mai! They provide pick up and drop off, a trip to a Thai grocery market, a full day of cooking school in the beautiful country side and you receive a cookbook full of the recipes you spent the day learning and making! It was actually the best food I ate during the entire trip!! The cooking school is located inside the farm/gardens and you get to walk through, taste, smell and learn about all of the homegrown ingredients in traditional Thai cuisine. I'm still craving Tom Yum Soup!
Stays and Plays
Yaang Come Village
Doi Suthep Temple
Sunday Night Market shopping
NAVA Boutique (my favorite store, I went here twice!!)
Thai Farm Cooking School
*TIP: It's so, so important to pick a reputable company if you choose to do an elephant experience. There are still so many that treat the elephants inhumanely. Riding or making the elephants pose for photos or do anything that isn't of natural elephant behavior is an absolute and solid NO NO!
I love Thailand! The people are so kind and I never once felt I was in danger. I want to go back some day, for sure! I would highly recommend traveling to Thailand and visiting more than one city. Logistics within the country are super cheap! Dress modestly, try all the food, take in the sights and smile :)