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 

“I measure life by countries, not years”

This post is inspired by one of my favorite quotes, seen below.  These beautiful words sum up my idea of carefree, uninhibited happiness, while grasping the essence of my everlasting love for travel…

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Upon reading this one stormy afternoon, I felt inspired & excited for future adventures abroad, laced with a refreshing fear of the unknown & all of the endless possibilities that await. So I drew upon my own experiences to come up with my take on what Travel Is….

 Travel is the taste of fresh pastries in a hidden alley coffee shop. It’s a $5 picnic for two on the back of a train. Travel is getting lost on purpose and wandering the streets with no map. It’s meeting a complete stranger on the subway and spending the next 12 hours exploring with them. It’s the lively urban buzz that surrounds you at all times. Travel is a random Wednesday turning into one of the best nights of your life. Travel is the smell of street foods filling the smokey air. And Coca Cola cans printed in different languages. Travel is smiling and nodding and pretending to understand when someone’s accent is too thick. Travel is meeting your soulmate on a random street on a random night at a random concert in a random pub. Travel is flirting with foreign boys and getting them to buy you sandwiches. Travel is taking a nap in the sunshine on a park bench. It’s people watching all day. It’s chip flavors and candy bars you never knew existed. Travel is the taste of the unknown somehow mixed with a faint hint of familiarity of home. Travel is the sharing of stories in a hostel. Travel is jumping into the ocean with new friends in the middle of a storm. It’s blisters on your feet from walking, but not caring. Travel is a burst of energy every morning. It’s being at a music festival and as the sun goes down, in that very moment, realizing how beautiful life is. Travel is being in the countryside and looking up at the same night stars that you’ve seen all your life. Travel is getting lost and finding yourself. It’s crying from laughing so hard with someone who was born on a different continent than you. Travel is learning to appreciate how relaxing a hot shower really is. Travel is listening to a special song on your iPod while gazing out of the train at the green countryside passing by. It’s hiding out in the back of a Starbucks for hours to use the free WiFi.  Travel is learning to not take sh*t for granted. It’s is realizing that it’s okay to not know your path in life yet. It’s realizing that your 20s are your years to explore and figure things out. Travel is beaming with happiness and feeling alive every day.

A few of my favorites…