the land of smiles

August of 2015, 2 friends and I decided to quit our jobs and venture on a journey across the globe together. One area of the world that has always intrigued me: Southeast Asia. My initial interest was peaked, as it usually is, by food. My taste buds matured in middle school, and I’ve been obsessed with Thai food ever since.  On almost every birthday of mine, I’ve found myself celebrating with friends and family over a hot plate of asian fried noodles, or stir-fries spiked with ginger and lemongrass. As I grew older and became more interested in fashion and design, bohemian prints and styles alongside vivid pops of color began catching my eye. After reading countless travel magazines and watching episodes of Anthony Bourdain, I finally connected my likes with a certain vibrant area of the world.  Laced with street markets, colorful fabrics, and lush terrain dotted with orchids, Thailand easily made it’s way to the top of my wanderlust list. Lucky for me, 2 of my friends shared the same desire and we soon all had no job and a month-long round trip ticket booked.

Thailand truly is one of the most exquisite countries I’ve ever experienced. Not only because of it’s natural beauty, but the culture and people are so lively and exhilarating. Thailand is also known as the “Land of Smiles”, because of the friendly spirit of the natives, along with their genuine desire to learn and engage with new people. This area of the world is exactly how I expected it, and more. Street vendors selling bright orange mangos and freshly cracked open coconuts, plates filled with random parts of unidentifiable birds and fried bugs, strange, often gag-worthy smells, fresh orchids everywhere, monkeys crawling up the sides of buildings, no traffic laws and motorbikes stacked high with 7 + people, and rich coconut soups and robust, aromatic curries around every turn. We spent a week in the capital city of northern Thailand, Chiang Mai. We then ventured on an island-hopping expedition, which included the breath-taking islands of Koh Samui, Koh Tao, Koh Phi Phi, Koh Phangan, and Railay (Ao Nang).  We ended the trip by going out with a bang in the capital, Bangkok (pun most certainly intended).   If you are seeking an eye opening travel experience and a look into a tantalizing part of the world, I cannot recommend Thailand enough. Here are some of the highlights of our colorful wanderlust journey, complete with a few of my personal must-dos. (look out for later blog posts on the food and inspirations I gathered from Thailand)

1 //  Chiang MaiThe largest city in Northern Thailand.  We spent a week here and fell in love.  (The culture in the North of the country is different than other areas of Thailand, so in my opinion this city is a must see).  We spent a good 5 hours at the Chiang Mai Sunday Night Market, on Rachadamnoen Rd. A taxi driver recommended this to us and it did not disappoint.  It’s the largest market in Thailand (and only happens on Sundays!). Super authentic, with far less touristy items than other markets we went to. If you are looking for handmade jewelry, tie-dye blankets, hand painted pottery, fresh spices, bohemian clothing, fried tarantulas on a stick, or anything in between, this is your place.  We also took a Thai cooking class in Chiang Mai, at Sammy’s Organic Cooking School. Hands down one of the coolest things I’ve ever done, considering I am a food fanatic. This is a day long course led by a hilarious Thai man.  The day begins with a tour of a food market, where you will learn about local ingredients and how they are used.  You then get piled into the back of a truck and driven into the countryside (not as sketchy as it sounds-I promise) to Sammy’s farm.  It is an absolutely beautiful setting, complete with banana trees, orchid vines everywhere, and hammocks set up in the middle of a lush tropical garden.  Here, Sammy and his wife teach you and help to prepare a 5 course Thai meal. I absolutely cannot recommend this enough if you want an authentic Thai experience.  Lastly, we did a day long trip to the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary.  Here you get to play with, feed, and bathe rescued elephants. The sanctuary focuses on No Riding and only promotes the safe care of the rescued elephants–another must do for a unique Thai experience. (Note: you will get completely covered in mud from head to toe when bathing the elephants. RIP to my favorite bathing suit). Also, Stay at the Diva Guesthouse in Chiang Mai–amazing hostel with delicious food and a beyond helpful staff.

2 // Koh Tao Island– My favorite island, with a laid back vibe that is far less touristy than others. Boasts a cool, relaxed beach bar scene where you can walk along the beach and experience different music and party atmospheres. Go to the Sunset Beach Bar, complete with a 2 story high dive.  Maybe a safety hazard after a few drinks but promises to be an awesome night out.  If you are looking for more upscale accommodations complete with resort style, curtain veiled beds and cabins in the jungle, stay at the Charm-Churee Village. While on Koh Tao, be sure to venture down to the beach for a thai massage while the sun goes down.

3// Koh Pha-Ngan– More touristy island but a must visit if you are looking to party at the world-famous Full Moon Party, which happens once a month. Just as it sounds: A 24 hour party on the beach, featuring glow in the dark body paint, minimal clothing, a plethora of illegal substances, non stop dancing and complete chaos. Stay at the ShiraLee Backpackers Resort for the full on travelers experience, where you are guaranteed to meet fellow adventure-seekers from around the world.

4// Koh Phi Phi The most beautiful of the islands we visited.  If you are looking for brochure-worthy views and stunning turquoise-emerald green waters with jagged cliff scenery, this is the spot.  Take a day trip on a long boat to Maya Bay, the location of the movie The Beach. No cars or taxis are allowed on this island, so it has a very relaxed feel.

5// Railay Beacha hidden, tiny beach village that can only be accessed by a small boat from the larger neighboring town of Ao-Nang.  It is worth the venture to isolated Railay Beach just to eat at the Mangrove Restaurant.  This is where I experienced hands down my best meal in all of Thailand, and probably one of the tastiest and most memorable meals of my entire life. After our first dinner here, we went back for every single meal for the rest of our stay on Railay. Be sure and order the huge portion of red curry coconut soup-this dish was literally life changing.  I still daydream about it.  

5// BangkokDon’t save all of your shopping for here! We were only in the capital city for 2.5 days, but found it to be entirely too touristy and focused heavily on the sex industry (can be a good thing or bad thing depending on what you are looking for here *wide eyed face emoji*, *dancing girl in red dress emoji*) The markets were tourist focused and so-so, nothing to that compared to Chiang Mai, in my opinion. Do visit the Red Light District (Soi Cowboy) for a fun, truly unique, and “eye-opening” night out (ladyboys, enough said). And be sure to take in the vibrant skyscrapers and expansive light network of Bangkok at night from one of the many luxurious rooftop bars and lounges.  [All photos below taken by me]

food // fruits 

scenery // culture 

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