Adventures in Thailand: Taking Tours Solo Pt. 2 (Ayutthaya)

My second adventure as a solo-traveler-gone-rogue was a bike tour through Ayutthaya, the old capitol of Thailand when it used to be the Kingdom of Siam. It’s a gorgeous ancient city, and my older cousin (the awesome one who lives in the Philippines,) insisted I check it out. Ancient history and adventure? Don’t have to tell me twice.

He recommended that I go there and rent a bike and explore the city. However, after looking into taking the train, looking at maps, and just psyching myself out, I decided going by myself maybe wasn’t the best idea. So, I signed up for a guided bike tour. It wasn’t as smooth-sailing as the Damnoen Saduak tour, because apparently no one wanted to go on a bike-tour during some of the hottest months of the year, so my tour was almost cancelled. But, at the last minute, a group decided they wanted to go, so I was added.

This time I was adopted by three lovely people from Brazil, who were in Bangkok on a business trip, and had a free day. So, I met them, and instantly became a part of their group photos and they bought me a beer. It was awesome.

 

The bike tour was almost all-day, from bright and early until the sun went down. We took a van to the heart of the City, and started our ride from there. We visited

 

My favs from this part of our day was the Doraemon hanging out with the icons, and the school group that was on a field trip to the complex. I was also completely FLOORED when I saw the Buddha head in the bayan roots– it was something that I only ever saw pictures of, and I actually got to see it in real life. It was surreal and amazing.

One of the things I noticed when exploring the ancient wats was how most of the Buddha heads were… non-existent. They were just gone. When I asked, our tour guide explained that when Ayutthaya was ransacked by the Burmese, they would remove the heads of the Buddhas to see if they were gold inside, and therefore valuable. In other instances, people looted the temples and sold the heads to westerners. Yeah, it’s pretty fucked.

We had a brief lunch of fruit, chips, and protein bars (soda was also available– but that was a HARD pass, considering I was sweating buckets,) and carried on into the rural countryside. It was very pretty and picturesque, and we came across a couple of fun things– like a group of kids on bicycles who wanted their picture with us, but then got too shy so just settled for staring and giggling at us, and a village partying-hard and celebrating a man who was to become a monk.The celebrators offered us beer and wanted to dance with us– I opted for the dancing but not the beer, because again, it was like 110 degrees Fahrenheit outside and I was riding a bike and that just sounded like a bad combo.

 

It was totally gorgeous and an amazing time. I was really lucky to be put with such a friendly group of people who wanted to include me, and at the end of our bike ride we enjoyed Thai food and the beer my new friends generously provided me with.

We were done with the bike rides, but we had another stop before heading home: the Bang Pa-In Royal Palace. It used to be a popular summer-residence for the kings of Thailand, but in recent years it is mostly a tourist site with a very strict dress code. Visiting temples usually requires modest dress and covering your shoulders, but here, men had to wear pants and women had to have their shoulders and legs covered.

I got an amazing photo of my get-up with one of my new friends:

By the way, we had to rent those adorable clothes– not buy. There was a stand outside of the palace for this specific purpose!

We wandered around the palace grounds, and of course I took a lot of pictures. We learned a little bit about the place, like how former King Bhumibol Adulyadej loved the summer palace and tried to spend as much time there as he could, and how the Chinese gifted an entire pavilion to the royal family.

 

After visiting the palace and eating some ice cream, we headed back to Bangkok and I slept for 16 hours. Bike riding during monsoon season is no joke.

Safe Travels and Happy Shooting!

Adventures in Thailand: Taking Tours Solo Pt. 1 (Damnoen Saduak)

You have to be pretty adventurous to be a solo traveler, but everyone has their limits.

My stay in Bangkok has been pretty great, solo-wise. I’ve been all over the city, trying new things, all by myself because I’m brave dammit. But, there are just some things that I wanted to see outside of the city.

Which left me two options: take a bus/train/whatever to the places I wanted to go and try to work out how to get to the sites, or take a damn tour. Seeing as I don’t speak Thai very well (or at all, ขอโทษ,) and I’ve never been to these places, and I’m a young woman alone, I decided to do the latter.

Now, sometimes you can’t take a tour as a solo traveler. However, if you contact the tour company in advance, they’ll usually be super accommodating and slide you in a group tour– this is exactly what I did for my tour to the floating market, Damnoen Saduak.

Damnoen Saduak is a 1.5 hour drive south west of Bangkok (I took a GREAT nap, since the pick-up was at 5:30AM,) and is in the country side. I learned that most of the economy is generated by this floating market for the village.

You may ask, “Deo, what IS a floating market?

I think the best way to explain is to just show you!

The protocol in a floating market is to pay a small fare to end up in one of the long boats. You take the boat down the canal, past the stalls, and if you see something you like, you ask the boatman to stop. From the comfort of your boat, you can haggle with the shop-keeper and purchase your goods.

There are also stalls around the canal, so you can go shopping without taking a boat-ride. I took the boat ride (came with my tour package,) but was too shy to ask to stop for anything. To be honest, I was just enjoying the novelty of it all, and chatting with my new friends from Taiwan.

One of the fun things about traveling solo is meeting new people. A father and his daughter, both visiting from Taiwan, noticed I was alone and adopted me. They fed me fruit and made sure I was with the group when it was time to leave. That’s them in the last pic up there– I hope the rest of their time in Thailand was lovely, as they deserved it!

So, that was my first test in traveling solo in a not-so-solo-setting. Keep an eye out for Pt. 2, where I talk about my bike-riding adventure in Ayutthaya!

Safe Travels and Happy Shooting!

Adventures in Thailand: In the Jungle

What do you think of when you hear the word, “jungle”?

I think of a couple of different things. I think about The Jungle Book, with tigers and bears and Mowgli. I think about Tarzan and apes and wildcats. I think about density, heat, unknowns, and stars beyond the canopy.

After visiting Ao Luek Tai in Krabi, I think about huts, cats, mountains, mosquito netting, and adventure.

We stayed at this amazing AirBnB in Krabi, and I cannot recommend this place enough. Our host picked us up from the docks and drove us the 45 minutes to the place, which is a compound of huts. You sleep on the top level, and the bottom level just kinda has a changing room. Toilets are in a separate hut, and showers and sinks in another. And it’s in the jungle, which was super cool in its own way.

Minus the GIANT blue and pink centipede. Nope nope nope.

They had cats and kittens legit everywhere, and I love kitties, so that was awesome. One of the kittens went after the centipede, but then freaked out when it realized how big it was, and then ran away. Smart kitten.

The main spectacular thing was the view I woke up to the mornings I was there:

One afternoon, we went kayaking through a mangrove forest, and it was AWESOME. I wanted to take so many pictures, my cousin got on my case about not helping with the rowing, and we got stuck in the roots a couple of times because of it… Sorry Ashley, I love you!

The nature was stunning, and I could have spent more time in the area, making pictures and enjoying the peace and quiet. We also explored a cave, which is apparently famous in the area for some prehistoric cave drawings. It was super neat-o.

We also spent some time at a construction site– sounds not-fun, but stay with me. Our host has a friend who is building a new Buddhist temple, and they let us explore. I felt like a kid in a candy shop. I mean, it’s not very everyday you visit an under-construction-holy-site. We oftentimes don’t even think of holy places as things that had to be built, even though they obviously had to have been, and there is this tension when walking around the space. I loved every second of it, but my favorite was the Buddhas wrapped up in cloth, waiting to be prayed to.

On our last morning, we visited a jungle pool… a natural, fresh-water pool in the jungle. No other way to describe it besides tell it like it is. There was a natural rock slide, and the water was refreshing and cool. It was a minor thing, but it was a lot of fun regardless. It kinda felt like I was in The Jungle Book, kinda felt like some terrifying snake would come slithering out of someplace and eat me, but y’know. Fun regardless.

If you’re going to southern Thailand and hitting up Ko Phi Phi and Phuket and the area, I recommend making time to go hang-out in the jungle. Just be sure to avoid the centipedes.

Safe Travels and Happy Shooting!

Adventures in Thailand: Down South

The southern tip of Thailand is a beautiful place.

Our adventures began in Phuket, at Parong Beach. We stayed at a small hotel-like place, and I say like-place because it was only 3 rooms, and you had to walk through a Subway to get to it. And I mean Subway as in the sandwich shop, not trains, though that would be a different kind of strange.

Aside: someone actually left a bad review for this hotel BECAUSE you had to walk through a Subway. Like, person, seriously? That just adds stars to my review, because easy access to sandwiches is ALWAYS worth extra stars in my book.

We were right across the street from the beach, which was GORGEOUS. There were definitely a lot of people, so if that’s not your thing, uhm, don’t go to Phuket?

What made it so incredible to me was how my cousin and I sat on our towels for a couple hours, listening to music, reading, and drawing. I watched tourists para-sail while a storm slowly rolled in from the distance. Not to sound too ridiculously hipster or whatever, but I’m totally going to sound too ridiculously hipster or whatever: it was sublime.

After we got rained-out, we went for drinks and went to bed. That’s about it– that’s what you do in Phuket. You go to the beach, maybe para-sail, and you drink. There are elephant shows and shopping, but elephants aren’t meant for shows (so don’t go see them, and if you do after my telling you this, you suck,) and the shopping is the usual cheap touristy stuff (but I DID get an amazing little elephant made out of seashells, so if you’re into tacky, I recommend one of those!)

In a weird way, Parong Beach is delightful because it just feels like a giant tourist trap. If you’re entertained by that like I am, then you’ll probably like Parong. If it infuriates you, go somewhere else– and I don’t mean that in a mean way, I just genuinely want you to enjoy your vacation.

If you’ve ever been to Orlando, Florida, you’ll know about the strange tourist stores on the side of the road that have a bunch of knock-off Disney products. That’s what Parong Beach feels like. It’s this strange space that feels like Vegas but isn’t Vegas at all but has that grime-feel that Vegas has but it’s in Thailand.

Okay, I’m probably being a little unfair– you do other things in Phuket besides lounge on the beach and drink. You can also go snorkeling for an afternoon, which we definitely took advantage of. I’ve never been snorkeling, but I had dreams as a kid of being a marine biologist/scuba diver/lover of fishies, so I was totally into this and loved every second.

I brought my Polaroid Cube with me with the water-proof casing, which was actually terrifying because the thing is so tiny I was afraid I was going to drop it and lose it to the sea urchins, but hey, nothing happened, and I got a couple nice shots.

Oh, and the sunsets at Parong Beach? Hella.

From our short-stay at Parong Beach, we took the ferry to Ko Phi Phi. One of the many mistakes people make is refer to this place as “Ko Phi Phi Island” but “Ko” actually means “island” in Thai, so you’re really saying “Island Phi Phi Island.” THE MORE YOU KNOW!

Ko Phi Phi is one of those places that you see pictures of all over the internet. It’s the place that most people associate with Thailand, other than the temples, because of its gorgeous beaches, clear water, and lovely little boats.

Because the island is rather small, we did a LOT of walking around and exploring. Honestly, I think after lounging around at Parong Beach, we just wanted to feel adventurous again. Apparently, Ko Phi Phi has a gorgeous view point, where you can see the entire island. Also, apparently, my cousin and I are idiots because we just kinda looked at a map and started walking in the general direction of said view point, and wound-up taking the long way round.

In hindsight it wasn’t so bad, because I got some great shots from that walk.

We were SO tired and SO thirsty though, but thankfully at the viewpoint there was a little shop that sold water and ice cream. I unashamedly LOVE ice cream, so I totally got one and enjoyed the hell out of it while also taking in the gorgeous view.

Something about Ko Phi Phi a lot of people talk about is the monkey population. There were monkeys ALL over the view point, hanging out and stealing people’s water bottles. One monkey legit chased me for my ice cream. The little jerk screamed at me in monkey-speak for it, but like I mentioned, I love ice cream and I wasn’t playin’.

Also that monkey looked like a mean af thug.

Mean af thug monkey, pissed I wouldn’t give up my precious ice cream.

We were only at Ko Phi Phi for a little over 24 hours, but it was amazing. I loved walking around the island, checking out the stalls and the food and taking in the atmosphere. I’m really glad we weren’t there for the full-moon party, as that’s not my scene, and it seemed that we were on the quiet side of the island. Great for an old lady of 24 like me.

We got to spend some time on the beach, of course, where I got to do some watercolor painting (I’m garbage at it but it’s fun,) and I got a spectacular sun burn.

Oh, and have I mentioned the colors there are spectacular?

So, Southern Thailand is a gorgeous place, as evidenced in the pictures. Parong Beach has a tourist-trap kind of charm (yes, it is a kind of charm,) that also feels spring-break-like, which is a valid type of vacation, and if you want to go party in Phuket, please, at the very least, pick up your trash. Ko Phi Phi is a little more chill, depending on what side of the island you are on, and I loved it so much I rather miss it.

Safe Travels and Happy Shooting!

 

 

Adventures in Thailand: Chiang Mai

If you ever go to Thailand and you want to see temples, go to Chiang Mai.

This city in northern Thailand is just an hour plane-ride from Bangkok, and is home to over 43 temples. They also have HUGE night-time weekend markets, which are full of life and fun.

My cousin and I spent 4 days in Chiang Mai, though one of those days was spent playing with elephants. The first day we were there, we checked in to our hostel and immediately got lost searching for temples to explore. Like, seriously lost, so lost that we just kinda gave up and walked in any old direction– and we found lots of cool temples in the process!

On one of our temple-exploring adventures, we got caught in a torrential downpour. A young monk invited us inside and we watched television with him– Kawpkoon-ka!

The temple we were aiming for was Wat Chedi Luang, which is a giant complex with the old temple in the center, which is ruins. It was really beautiful, and while we were there we heard chanting coming from inside one of the newer complexes– there was a ceremony happening, and we were able to sit and watch for a bit. I wish I knew more about Buddhism to tell you what it was we were watching, but I can describe it to the best of my ability and maybe some of my Buddhist followers can teach me a thing or five:

There were about five monks, all sitting and holding onto a white string, which was quite long. There was a statue, a Buddha, that someone had brought in perhaps to be blessed? After the ceremony they loaded it onto the back of a truck and sprinkled water on it, so maybe.

It was super dope to see.

Chiang Mai isn’t a huge city like Bangkok, and it is surrounded by super old walls on all 4 sides. It’s such an awesome, historical place, and my cousin and I got lost numerous times–and every time we did, we found something amazing. One evening, when we got so lost we hailed a tuk tuk to take us back to our hostel (gosh, we’re terrible,) we saw a festival going on and asked the driver to please drop us off there instead. It was a cultural festival, representing different dances, music, and performances from the different northern provinces of Thailand. Best accidental discovery ever!

There were also a LOT of pigeons hanging out by the stage.

I mentioned earlier that Chiang Mai had some delightful night markets– we went to the Saturday Night Market, and spent hours getting lost wandering around, looking at the wares. There was a combination of typical tourist trinkets, food, and some original handmade gifts. One of my favorite stalls was selling very unique and very gaudy sunglasses– think lots of rhinestones, flowers, cat ears, etc!

There was a lot to do in Chiang Mai, and I could probably write a book all about it, but I’ll leave you with this: GO TO CHIANG MAI YOU WILL NOT REGRET IT I PROMISE. Even if you don’t have a plan, go, because I can 1000% assure you that you will find something absolutely incredible.

Safe Travels and Happy Shooting!

 

Adventures in Thailand: ElepHANTS OMG

There are a lot of elephants around Chiang Mai. Not in the wild– there are hardly any left in the wild– but they can be found at elephant sanctuaries.

Did you know that riding on an elephants back hurts them? Most elephants at elephant sanctuaries are rescued from riding camps, logging farms, and circus-type venues. My cousin and I really wanted to see some elephants, but we were NOT down with animal abuse. That’s where the sanctuaries come in. There are quite a few around Chiang Mai, but we settled on the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. Instead of taking a ride on the backs of one of these gentle creatures, we spent the day feeding them, playing in the mud with them, and messing around in a river. WAY BETTER THAN RIDING.

AND ELEPHANTS ARE THE GREATEST CREATURES. They were kind, gentle, and really funny. One elephant, his name was Peter, was 4 years old and a total trouble maker. He ate all of my bananas before I could give them to any other elephants, and this little fella (who was the side of a car,) would just charge through wherever he wanted. So lovely.

I didn’t have my typical stash of cameras on me, because I knew I’d be working in the mud for the day, so I only brought my phone and Polaroid Cube along. Granted, not the best tools, but I did get a couple decent shots of my new fav animals.

Seriously, elephants are the best.

Here, have some totally self-indulgent photos of me, courtesy of my cousin, Ashley.

 

This was seriously one of the best days of my life. If you are ever in Thailand, I highly recommend the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, or one of the other sanctuaries. And remember: IF THEY OFFER RIDING THEY ARE NOT A TRUE SANCTUARY AND YOU SHOULD NOT SUPPORT THEM. If we want to save these beautiful creatures, we have to break down the riding industry.

Safe travels and happy shooting!

 

Adventures in Thailand: Bangkok Pt. 1

I’ve been in Thailand for nearly a month now, and it’s been amazing. Thailand is such a beautiful country (if scorching hot in the month of June,) and there is no shortage of sights in the capital, Bangkok.

Currently, I’m staying at an apartment I rented out for the month through AirBnB. I’m location east of the center of the city in the Phra Khanong district (are they called districts here? neighborhoods? uhm?) which is a little ways away from the Imperial Palace and the famous Reclining Buddha. However, the BTS SkyTrain is located just down the street from me, so I just hop on that to get wherever I wanna go.

My first week here was spent exploring the area where I live and the Siam area. Siam has a HUGE shopping center and the Bangkok Art and Culture Center, lots of people, and lots of interesting spaces to photograph. I especially adored the BACC, which had floors of contemporary art (my fav.)

I also went to the famous Chatchuak Weekend Market, on the city’s north side. I totally got lost… Very, very lost. It took me two hours to find my way back out, probably because I wasn’t trying too hard. The market was awesome, with all the tacky souvenirs a person could possibly want. I took lots of pictures, haggled, and just got caught up in the sights and sounds.

Bangkok is a huge place and I’ve barely scratched the surface of it. I’ll be checking out the Palace and the more famous temples later this week, so keep an eye out!

Safe travels and happy shooting!