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The temperature was dropping quickly as we wove our motorbike up the windy mountain in the foothills of the Himalayas. Despite the threat of impending rain we decided to continue our journey north from Wat Suthep in the mountains around Chiang Mai. We wanted to explore some of the Hmong villages said to exist further up the road. Shivering under our rain ponchos, we rode on and on taking in the beautiful views below and the surrounding forests. After about 45 minutes, we finally rounded a bend, and saw small houses along the road. The rain had officially started, so there wasn’t much activity around. But then a glorious, yellow sign caught our attention – it read simply “Coffee.” My shivering bones leaped with excitement as we wondered down the pathway toward promising warmth. As the bushes and trees cleared, we found ourselves standing on a beautiful wooden deck overlooking acres of coffee plants reaching far down into a valley. There were tables and benches on which to sit and a small “counter” with coffee making utensils strewn about. A small women with a big smile came from behind a nearby house and motioned for us to sit down. We did, and she began to prepare cups of fresh, smoldering coffee directly from these grounds. I don’t know if it was the cold, the gorgeous view, or the fact that I’d never had coffee this fresh in my life –but that hot cup on top of the world is something I’ll never forget!
I really wanted to ride an elephant. Decades ago while reading a travel magazine I was mesmerized by a close-up picture of smiling tourists riding an elephant up to the Amber Fort. That was what I wanted to do, ride on top of an elephant. Walking alongside the lake below the Amber Fort in Jaipur, India were possibly the same elephants wearing regal crimson blankets and carrying riders to the fort. After visiting the fort we drove by a building where the rides were advertised. Asking the driver to stop, he pulled in to an adjacent side street, we climbed out of the car and waited outside for an approaching elephant. Its face and trunk were painted in pinks, yellows and oranges. My pulse quickened. A chance to ride an elephant! As it neared, the ground, surprisingly, did not shake and we could hear the riders’ voices. Then we noticed that the paint colors were faded and I sensed sadness in the spirit of this elephant and lifelessness in its eyes. It looked very unhappy with the family of five sitting on its back in the hot, dry midday sun. Albert didn’t want me to ride these elephants because they looked abused, but I wanted to be sure. I asked the mahout where the elephants were housed. He pointed down the same dirt street we were on to a large entrance. I took my camera and entered into a cavernous building that was two stories high, where I found six adult elephants and one baby tethered to the cement floor by short chains.
This is where to go. You will need to get yourself to Krabi, Au Naug or Phuket on the south western coast and then take a boat. There is no other way to get here.
If you're spending time in Bangkok, the Grand Palace is an absolute. This collection of buildings in the heart of the city will wow you in scale, passion, and color. Until 1925 this was the official residence of the king and while the present monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, lives at the Chitralada Palace, he'll still use the Grand Palace for official annual events. On the grounds, you'll notice the Royal Grand Palace and the exceptional Emerald Buddha (while visiting the Wat Phra Kaew/Royal Chapel). It is incredibly uplifting and extremely warm, while you're in the complex. Enjoy a day exploring the palace but be sure to hydrate and wear sunscreen.
Maya Bay is no real secret - Leonardo DiCarprio's The Beach took care of that - but it is still one of the most naturally stunning places on earth. The old Thai longboats that settle in on the beach help add to the atmosphere too. As far as pure tourist destinations go, this is one of the best in the country.
One of the largest wats in Bangkok and home to over 1,000 images of the Buddha, Wat Pho is most famous for this sculpture of a giant reclining Buddha. He's 46 meters long with feet inscribed with mother-of-pearl mosaics and a body covered in gold leaf. Very impressive. Wat Pho isn't a pilgrimage site, but you can drop some money in one of 108 begging bowls and maybe bring yourself some good luck.
Soi 11 in the Ratchathewi district of Bangkok is filled to the brim with street food vendors. But I can say with a little bit of certainty that this lady serves up the tastiest soup in the neighborhood.
One of my most favourite travel experiences so far was the Loi Krathong festival in Thailand - and Chiang Mai is one of the best places to visit for this as they really go all out! It is held every year at full moon in the 12th month of the Thai lunar calendar, so the dates do vary each year but are generally around the end of November. The festival features beautifully illuminated paper lanterns, which are launched into the night sky. Krathong which are an offering, traditionally made out of a banana stalk and adorned with candles, incense and some money, are also floated down the rivers. The sight of hundreds of paper lanterns being set off into the night sky against the full moon is truly an incredible and memorable moment. As with most festivals in Thailand, there is a lot of partying to be done at this time of the year too, so set off your lantern (sending away any bad luck), watch the parade and then head to one of the many bars to end the night! This is obviously a busy time for Chiang Mai so if you are planning a visit, then make sure you book transport and accommodation in advance. Accommodation prices might also be slightly more expensive - think mine was an additional 20THB a night, so it won't exactly break the bank and the experience is totally worth it!
While staying at the Phi Phi Relax Resort (see my Oasis Lodging post for details on this 'off the grid' spot), I was fortunate enough to witness everyday life in paradise. As I was bobbing around in the Andaman Sea, trying to not destroy my non-waterproof camera, I saw just another day of deliveries in Kho Phi Phi, Thailand. I watched as a mini armada of longtail boats, cutting through the waves with nary a passenger aboard, eased up to shore, deposited their supplies, and set back out on the water for yet another run. No loading zone, no blinking lights, and no worries about being towed. Just another day in paradise.
If you only see one temple in Bangkok, make it Wat Pho: home of the largest reclining Buddha in Thailand. The 141-foot-long statue is an artistic masterpiece plated in gold leaf and inlaid with mother of pearl. You could easily spend all day wandering the grounds, looking at reliquaries, visiting the massage school, and admiring the 400 statues of Buddha in the outer cloister—each posed and sculpted slightly differently. Before you leave, drop some money in one of the 108 begging bowls (one bowl for each of the characters of Buddha). The money goes to maintaining the Wat and the gift will bring you good luck. That seems like a fair trade.
Every city has certain areas that all visitors have to explore, regardless of their true value. Khao San Road is just such a place. Known as the heart of the backpacker world of Bangkok, Khao San Road has a little something for everyone. For the uninitiated, Khao San Road is probably one of the trashiest places you’ll ever visit, but that ultimately is part of its charm. Peep shows, bars, buskers, young backpackers and knock-off goods are all the ingredients that comprise the stew of humanity you’ll find there. If you’re a good haggler, there are some deals to be found but be careful. This is also the center of pickpockets and scam artists in the city, all ready to take advantage of unsuspecting tourists. I usually get to Khao San Road by boat. To get there take the river taxi to Phra Arthit pier and follow the wandering hoards to the main attraction.
The waterfall made famous by the courageous jump on the movie THE BEACH is not located on an island in the gulf, but is actually located in Khao Yai National Park. Khoa Yai is about 2 hours northeast of Bangkok in the province of Khorat. The park's real stars are the singing White Handed Gibbons and wild Elephant troops that inhabit the forest.
Translated to mean "The Temple of the Dawn," the Wat Arun complex is a huge, active monastery. At the heart of Wat Arun are the five stupas, or towers, each pointing towards the heavens. Originally decorated with the broken china that served as ballast for river barges, the stupas are colorful and wonderfully eclectic. For the more adventurous travelers, it’s possible to climb to the top of the central stupa for amazing views of the city. The first time I visited six years ago it started raining so we sought shelter under one of the temple awnings. It was a magical moment sitting there contemplating the meticulously constructed towers. Hands down, my favorite spot in all of Bangkok is this riverside temple. Wat Arun is located on the west side of Chao Praya River opposite Tha Thien Pier. It's open from 8:00 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. and requires a nominal entrance fee.
I've found that my camera is a great ice breaker. Whenever I take a photo of someone - after asking for permission, of course (um, usually) - I make sure to show them the photo. Usually, even the most stoic person cracks a great big smile. Such was the case with this woman.
On every trip, I try to ride my motorbike up to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, a beautiful temple on the top of the mountain just outside of town. The view of the Chiang Mai valley is breathtaking on a clear day. I go to the shrine in the back of the temple and receive a blessing from the presiding monk. —Andy Ricker Photo by whyyan/Flickr. This appeared in the May 2013 issue.
One of Thailand's iconic images is the longtail boat. Used for fishing, diving, transportation and more, these boats are beautifully spotted along beaches all over Thailand.
On the island of Kho Phi Phi, there is the usual town that greets you with bars, restaurant and easy-to-get lodging if you didn't plan ahead. However, if you are so inclined, on the far side of the island there is a veritable Smurf village that awaits you. You can hike 45 minutes through the trails to get there, or take a long tail boat, but either way it's worth discovering Phi Phi Relax Resort! This enchanting little gathering of hut houses is made by hand from the locals with materials only from the surrounding jungle. There is no hot water, but it's also not cold, and it's extremely refreshing after being in the sun all day and swimming in the ocean. And the electricity is only turned on at night so you can navigate your way among the village's stepping stone trails. I mean, I know we wanted 'off the grid,' but we didn't expect it to be literally. This place was green before it was cool to be green.
The old Chinese market, its shop houses painted in bright colors, is one of Bangkok’s most beautiful and fun. As you wander, let your eyes search for crowded noodle stalls, try the famous sweets, or browse stands selling fresh vegetables and seafood. It’s best to go before 1 p.m. You might see a Chinese opera performance on the stage inside the market. Thanon Nakhon Sawan at Nakhon Sawan 7 Open Mon.–Fri. This appeared in the May/June 2010 issue. Photo by Martin Westlake. See all of Tanongsak “Dtong” Yordwai’s favorite places in Dusit, Bangkok.
To be honest the famous beach where it was filmed the Leonardo Dicarpio Movie is not so great. is less than 50m longs which it looks like a boat parking lot. 10 m are available to swim or something i am pretty sure that are better spots and less crowded in Thailand
The island of Ko Yao Noi is one of two large islands in Phang Nga Bay that is often overlooked by travelers. The beaches are nice and the views are spectacular. The island only has a few hotels and you can enjoy the same offering of day excursions as you would at the larger, more popular places, such as Phuket, Krabi or Ko Phi Phi. The island is a very quiet "oasis" and there is a small, mostly muslim, village that is worth a visit. Ko Yao Island Resort is the place to stay if you want to get away from the crowds and experience this natural beauty for yourself.
Tuk tuks are arguably the most adventurous way to get around Bangkok. Be sure to agree on a price first, as the drivers language can be as colorful as their chariots if you start haggling over the price once you reach your destination.
The place to go for curries—with lotus shoots or with crabmeat—Krua Apsorn is a favorite restaurant for me and for some members of the royal family. The decor is not very exciting, but the food is. Thanon Samsen, near the corner of Soi Samsen 9 and the National Library. This story appeared in the May/June 2010 issue. Photo by Martin Westlake. See all of Tanongsak “Dtong” Yordwai’s favorite places in Dusit, Bangkok.
A row of Buddhas at Wat Phra That Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai. Doi Suthep temple is located at the top of the mountain that looms over the city of Chiang Mai and is one of the most famous and sacred temples in Thailand.
One of the water activities in the islands off Phuket is to feed the tropical fish. Those fish are "spoiled" by all the visitors who feed them bread. When you soak a piece of bread in the water, they come to you within a couple of seconds, and I'm not talking about a dozen of them, it's like several dozen of them. You will be surrounded by the colorful fish.
Where else in the world can you be big spoon to a tiger, have a monkey "accidentally" grope you in a photo, and ride a gorgeous elephant named Oz through the forest. Chiang Mai Thailand of course. These three places are all within a 10 minute drive from each other. And from the photo, the tiger looks like it was sleeping, but no it was fully awake and this might have been one of the most terrifying experiences ever. But it was also a once in a lifetime experience. For $16 US dollars, I signed my life away to spoon with a tiger. Would I do it again? Absolutely!
Waking early to the loud morning chorus of the Thai rainforest is an amazing experience. Whooping gibbons, honking hornbills and buzzing insects compete to fill the air waves with their loud songs to the new day. The floating bungalows on Lake Chiew Lan are located in Khao Sok National Park in Surat Thani province. A night or two can be arranged through your lodging in Khlong Sok near the park entrance. In our case, we stayed at Khao Sok Rainforest Resort and prearranged a night on the water as part of our package. In addition to the morning music, you'll be joined for breakfast by nosy macaques.
I spent last weekend harvesting coffee with a small Akha hilltribe community through a very localized trek with Akha Ama Coffee. Akha Ama is a small coffee shop in Chiang Mai that exclusively distributes coffee produced in Mae Jan Tai village. The company was created by Lee, the first person in his village to be college educated, as a community development project to strengthen the local economy. We stayed with the local farmers and learned about the entire process of coffee farming, harvesting and processing. We also learned how coffee production can be used as a poverty alleviation strategy if middlemen are cut out and local farmers are given the resources to control more of the process. Beautiful People Beautiful Scenery Delicious Coffee Amazing Experience picture: Lee's mother and newborn niece
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