Rather than a cold, snowy Christmas break, I managed to sneak out of school a few days early to experience an entirely different climate in Thailand. But my journey to this tropical, hot, wonderland has sadly come to an end.
Our time in Thailand has been both relaxing, and educational. I learned about Thai culture and community. I thoroughly enjoyed the country and its people – although, honestly, I found the heat oppressive at times.
Thai people are among the friendliest in the world. Smiles, hellos and kindness follow you everywhere. Even though Bangkok is a massive city, the kindness is not lost. Nevertheless, Bangkok is one of those cities that I cannot decide if I really like or not. It is a large, polluted city where the roads are packed with mopeds and the air is hot and thick. On the other hand, there are some park spaces as well as vibrant city life.
Flying from Bangkok to Chiang Mai was easy. The airport in Bangkok is large and comfortable. On our way to the gate I treated myself to one of Thailand’s well known beverages, Thai iced tea, which can be found everywhere in the country. The flight was a comfortable hour and a half up to the northern part of the country.
Chiang Mai is known for its old city walls and is the second largest city in Thailand. Restaurants, massage parlours and assorted stores fill the streets and tuk tuks line the roads. We found a local restaurant that was air conditioned (I don’t do very well in 35 degree weather) and it ended up having delicious food. We even came back for lunch the next day! Even though we went to this one specific restaurant, there were plenty of restaurants in the old town and I am sure that many are excellent. In the evening we enjoyed bbq’d street food.
One day we explored Thailand’s highest mountain, Doi Inthanon. We also went on a hike through the trails on the mountain and down beside a small river covered in waterfalls. Unfortunately, about half way through our hike, I slipped and fell into the river near the top of a waterfall! I have to say, that was scary and I do not recommend it.
We passed through agricultural fields, many of which were growing delicious strawberries. We stopped and bought a few at a farmer’s stand; they may have been the best strawberries any of us had ever had.
On our way up to the summit (2,500 meters), we drove the windy roads and went to the twin Pagodas. Two beautiful sanctuaries that were built for the 60th birthdays of the king and queen – Thailand remains a monarchy, with images of the royal family all over the country. These buildings enhanced our already spectacular view and made the day even more worth it.
One of my overwhelming highlights of the trip was visiting an elephant sanctuary. It was a thrill to meet elephants. We played with and fed these gentle giants and then brought them down to the river where we bathed them. The elephant sanctuary had a baby elephant that may have been one of the most adorable creatures I have ever met. She was only two years old and very playful.
We fed the elephants a sort of pumpkin, which they seemed to definitely enjoy. Although after learning about how much they need to eat (up to 300 pounds per day!) I wasn’t surprised.
They taught us about how these elephants had been saved from places where they were being mistreated. When you walk around the streets of small cities in Thailand, you will see signs for elephant trekking and elephant shows. Both of these are incredibly inhumane for different reasons. Elephant trekking is awful because these elephants are being forced to constantly walk, and support the weight of people all day long. Elephants also need to eat A LOT, and when they are constantly trekking, they are not receiving the proper amount of nutrients that they need in a day.
I was glad to see many of these reserves that were taking elephants out of these horrible situations. Even if they weren’t able to be wild again, at least they had somewhere safe to be, with all the food they need and all the tourists to feed it to them. If you are going to Thailand, PLEASE do not go to an animal show or to any sort of elephant riding. Instead, go to an elephant sanctuary. I would also add that elephants are not the only mistreated animals in Thailand. Please do not go to a show with any wild animals involved. When you go to an elephant show, you are supporting these animals being trained and apparently the training can be brutal.
From the far north of the country, we flew south on Christmas Day. Phuket is a major global tourist destination. There seemed to be more foreigners than Thai people on the island, and more foreign food in the grocery stores than anywhere else. Phuket is famous for its beautiful beaches and nightlife of Patong, but some of the towns on the mainland were just as beautiful and less busy. If you are looking for a beach holiday for a few days I would recommend mainland Thailand more than Phuket.
Food in Thailand is a highlight. It was generally excellent. Many of the dishes that we ate were very similar to the Thai food we get at home. Pad Thai, spring rolls and curries are found on nearly every menu and their local cuisine was made very well virtually every time.
Eating foreign food in the county was a bit of a different story. We had tried different food every once in a while with mixed success. If you are going to Thailand I suggest sticking with Thai cuisine, as steak and other Western dishes were not of the same quality as the local food. Dishes that I enjoyed the most on our journey would be chicken and coconut soup, pad Thai and khao soi, which I learned to cook at a class in Chiang Mai.
An element of Thai food that you must be aware of is spice. It is very hot and at times unbearably spicy.
After my experience, I think that it is fair to say that Thai people are fond of drinks. There are stalls on every street selling drinks such as full coconuts, all the way to bubble tea and milkshakes. I definitely enjoyed this element of Thai food. I am a big fan of bubble tea, and the teas that I had in this country were probably the best I have ever had. Thai iced tea (which consist of dark Thai tea and condensed milk poured over ice) with tapioca pearls was probably my favourite one of these beverages. It was also much cheaper than in Canada. In Canada, a bubble tea can cost upwards of six dollars whereas here I was paying a mere 25 baht, around $1.
It would be unfair to talk about Thailand and not mention the abundance of massage parlours. For between 10 and 15 dollars, you can get one of the best massages of your life. In three weeks I had at least 10 massages. I mostly chose the traditional Thai massage, which involves lots of bending, cracking and twisting, but I also enjoyed a foot massage and an oil massage (more similar to a massage at home).
Should Thailand ever have a cool season, I would definitely return at that time.