I’ve spent the past few weeks travelling through Thailand. Some friends and I backpacked through Khao Yai National Park, I spent a week or so absorbing in Bangkok, visited magical Kanchanaburi and it’s lovely Erawan waterfalls, came back to Hua Hin and volunteered with Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand, and finally spent a week in Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai visiting wats (temples), an aquarium, and national parks. We even visited the Golden Triangle (famous for Opium Trade) and experienced a little bit of what Laos has to offer (whiskey)!
It’s been a liberating experience and I’m grateful to my lively friend Jenna who never wanted to sleep, even when I was mean to her!
Khao Yai – Thailiand’s second largest national park
Getting to Khao Yai was such a pain in the ass. We bused from Bangkok only to find out where the bus dropped us off still left us an hour away from the national park! We rented two motorbikes for four people – but two of us tried to drive the motorbike with our backpacks and felt like we were going to kill ourselves – so two of us took a ride in an old crappy red pick up truck into the park. Once we finally got to the park, the entrance fee was different for foreigners (500tbh) and Thai people (40tbh). Although this is a common occurrence for fees to be higher for foreigners, we spent a good 10 minutes attempting to convince the patrol we were on Thai visas (which worked)! Once we got through the entrance we discovered you essentially needed a vehicle to hike and camp at Khao Yai, and we only had one motor bike between the four of us. We found a group of Americans (from UCSB) and shared a truck, and got into the camp ground about an hour later. Khao Yai is a beautiful lush forest with high elevation, cool air, and beautiful scenery. Because of the elevation and viewpoints at Khoa Yai, the scenery seemed similar to views you would see on a helicopter tour while you were still on the ground. We went on a (stupid) night safari where we all gathered into the back of a pickup truck and a woman who didn’t speak made figure-eights with her flashlight into the trees. Whenever she “found” something she left her flashlight still and spoke no words. I found myself sitting in the back of the truck staring into the darkness with a still flashlight shining at things I couldn’t see pretending that branches were monkeys or jumping snakes. I also dreamed how much more interesting the safari would have been with Steve Erwin commentary. We ended up spotting a few porcupines and deer, which is not the picturesque ideal you have in your head when you envision a night safari. We camped overnight sharing our campground with deer and monkeys (macaques) and woke up in the morning and hiked to Haeo Suwat waterfall. The waterfall we hiked to was featured in Leonardo DiCaprio’s 90s movie “The Beach”. Although I’ve seen much more beautiful waterfalls here in Thailand, it was a nice hike full of sweat, butterflies, and fresh elephant dung.
Bangkok is a town I have so much love for. It reminds me of San Francisco mixed with New York City. The public transportation system is quite user friendly. San Francisco, closes off a street, and gourmet food trucks invade the city every so often. In Bangkok (and every part of Thailand I’ve been to) every day and every street is a food truck haven. Carts are full of kebabs, fresh fruit, fried chicken, noodles, meat sticks (ew), juices, and fish. One of my favorite nights in Bangkok was spent on a random side street drinking from a food truck that was half kebabs half “jungle juice”. Some friends and I ordered adult smoothies and kebabs for like $5 and spent the night chatting and studying in an amazing hostel that literally was like $8 for the night. The streets of Bangkok are full of tables selling goods. Although I’ve seen similar outdoor “markets” in San Francisco and New York City, in Bangkok it’s EVERYWHERE. One of my favorites is located on the BTS (skytrain) stop at Nana – you can walk for miles and the never-ending tables are set up at around 6pm full of random stuff… toys, guns, knives, black market purses, basketball jerseys, clothes, shoes, pharmaceuticals, rugs, tapestries, backpacks, belts, jewelry…. I think I spent $10 on some fun squishy toys for my cousins, a Spurs basketball jersey, a few books, and probably some food or something. Another highlight to mention is the mall Terminal 21 which is modeled after an Airport. The people working at the information desks wear flight attendant outfits. Each floor of the mall is designed as a major international airport. I feel like in Bangkok the malls are more interesting to observe than to actually shop and feel like museums or art galleries. Next to the Canal Shoppes in Caesar’s Palace Vegas, Siam Center in Bangkok is the coolest mall I’ve ever been to. Although a mall is by definition for shopping, in these Bangkok malls you could spend all day looking at the art and exhibits and not buy a thing! I’ve been told Siam Center is Lady Gaga’s favorite mall – and for damn good reason. I wish words could describe the mall. But I can tell you I spent a few hours inside, fully satisfied, and all I purchased was a coffee. Aside from shopping, Bangkok has wats, Thai massage, live music, international bars, and an interesting adult scene. We spent a few hours in an Aussie bar, listening to a Thai band playing American music, drinking Irish beer, being asked if we were British. Bangkok offers a diversity I can appreciate!
Kanchanaburi’s Erawan Waterfall is truly extraordinary. I once hiked through a river with a heavy current in Maui, Hawaii only to walk through sharp rocks to get to a beautiful waterfall with a swimming hole – thinking at the time it was one of the most beautiful places I’d ever seen in my life. Although that experience was incredible, Thailand offer’s waterfalls on a larger scale. Erawan features seven waterfalls and swimming holes all layered on top of each other with clear aqua water without sharp rocks and river currents. Perfect waterfalls.
Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand
I’ve been continuing to volunteer with the wildlife foundation about 30 minutes away from where I live. My friend Jenna and I took care of Palin, an older female elephant. The day consisted of taking Palin for a walk for “enrichment”, feeding her snacks, making her food (banana balls = approx. 15 bananas mixed with 32 ounces of vitamin power and 48 ounces of a dog food looking substance mixed together into balls) washing her body, and cleaning the bamboo and dung out of her enclosure. It’s amazing to be given the opportunity to work with elephants, but the end goal is to have a climate where elephants can survive in the wild and not be exploited for tourism. I cannot stress enough that a wild animal should not be rode, forced to paint, dance, or do tricks. An elephant should be allowed to act as an elephant, without the responsibility of learning show tactics to engage humans – especially when you see an Mahoot holding a large metal hook to get the Elephant to “behave”!
Chiang Mai is a really clean historical town in the North of Thailand. It’s full of national parks, wats, elephant excursions (I do not advocate!!), and a large backpacker scene. A highlight for me was the Buatong Waterfall which was so cool because the earth underneath the waterfall was limestone, and you were able to climb up and down the waterfall without any difficulty!
My friends and I went on a tour to Chiang Rai to see Wat Rong Khun (The White Temple) and it IS one of the most amazing places I’ve ever seen in my WHOLE LIFE. It’s definitely something I would put on a bucket list. You can see from pictures how amazing the modern wat is, but once you walk inside your mind is completely blown. Mural upon mural cover the temple walls of spiritual/religious scenes – except the wall where the door is – which is full of paintings of modern media symbols. Inside The White Temple are paintings of Hello Kitty, The Predator, Captain Jack Sparrow, Indiana Jones, Disney Minions, Star Wars characters, the Matrix, and more that I can’t remember because photos are strictly prohibited inside! My girlfriends and I drew on spiritual ornaments and hung them around the temple so a part of us will forever be at Wat Rong Khun. After Chiang Rai, we drove to the Golden Triangle, famous for being the biggest spot of international opium trade on a river connecting China, Laos, Burma, and Thailand. We ventured into Laos to be greeted with Whiskeys flavored with snakes, turtles, and other dead animal parts.. which grossed me out (FOR REAL). The most fun about the trip was being in three countries at once – the river where Thailand, Laos, and Burma all connect!
My least favorite part about Chiang Mai was the amount of child beggars out late at night. Although inhabitants of Asia will tell you it’s prevalent everywhere (not just Thailand), it still sits so uneasy in my stomach. Children will try to arm wrestle you, sell you goods, hit you with sticks to try to make you laugh, sit at your table and fall asleep, look like they are about to cry, or stand next to you for a long time so you feel obligated or guilted into giving them money. When an 8 year old is sitting at your bar table at 1am looking like they are about to cry it is really hard not to give them money. I know logically that the only way to end child begging is to stop acknowledging it all together and not give in to temptation – but it really hurts me inside to watch a child being used in that kind of syndicate. The world is not perfect, Thailand especially, but I do my best not to make moral judgments on other countries, especially when people in my own country take guns and kill children on the streets, but I strive to live in a world where no species are exploited. Especially not children.
How can humans survive as a species when we force other species into extinction? I have a special place in my heart for wildlife, and I fear for a future where more animals and environment become extinct because logically it just proves that we will do it to our own race. But I guess that’s just the reality! All I can do is make the decision to try to be a little bit better each day and take responsibility for leaving a positive mark on this planet. I don’t know where I’ll travel, explore, or volunteer next – but I’m inspired to do so – and I hope you are too!
I want to acknowledge, appreciate, and give special thanks to my friend Jenna from St. Louis, who really showed and inspired me how to make the most of every single day and who stayed up late and woke up early just to experience every possible moment. I’m grateful for her, even though at times I wanted to scream at her, because without her I wouldn’t have seen or done half as much. Check out her travel blog at myrestlessroamingspirit.com!