THINGS I LOVED:
» Night Trains: Our first night in Thailand was spent on a night train, and I LOVED IT! It was such a different experience from the night bus. We have even scored a couple for less than the night bus would cost. We opt for second-class, upper bunks, which are cheaper than the lower, but are perfectly private, cozy and have been my best night of sleep on night transportation thus far.
» Pork-Filled Pastries: Our first morning in Bangkok we decided to venture out for a street-food breakfast and cam home with an ear of roasted corn, an iced coffee and these scrumptious pork-filled & butter glazed potpie type pastries. Oh. My. Gosh. We got them every morning because they were so freakin’ good!
» Western Comforts: I have to admit that halfway through our trip, we were ready for some western comforts. We got air-conditioning most nights post-Safari Park and I don’t think I had any Thai food after leaving the Safari. I was just ready for things like pizza, pesto, hummus and café-style sandwiches. I was very willing to accept my readiness for these things and gave in to these desires that I had been without for over a month at this point.
» Motorbike Rides: Stacey became an expert motorbike driver while at Safari Park…. Well, maybe not an expert, but she was pretty damn good and it was nice to be able to get around on our own. When she didn’t feel comfortable to drive through towns we rode with our friends Salapong & Ry. I loved feeling & hearing the wind rush past, whipping my hair out like a wild child. After a few days I got comfortable enough to close my eyes and hold my arms out to the side and feel it rush through my fingers. My favorite was to get totally lost in moments riding back at night looking up at the stars while only hearing the putter of the motorbike. I miss this simple freedom and I can’t wait to get to feel it again.
» The Friends I Made at Safari Park: I met a group of wonderful people who were doing amazing things during my time at Safari Park. I learned so many lessons about things I wanted and didn’t want in my life from these people and I wouldn’t have had the experience I had without them. Four people truly stick out in my mind- Salapong, Jade, Ry and Kathy. Salapong was amazing and fun. He taught me Thai words, took me to get my tattoo & on other fun little fieldtrips during my down time at SPZ. Jade and I met & bonded over our love for elephants and our strikingly similar personalities. She is a bit like a little sister and I hope to always stay in touch, and I’m hoping she’ll be attending my wedding in June. Ry has one of those personalities that you can’t help but love when you get to know him, and I’m hoping to see him again this fall when he drives Route 66 and visits Matt and me Asheville on his way to Chicago. Kathy was my SPZ hero. She was such a hard-worker and an inspiration during my days working in Rescue. She had such a passion for bettering the lives of the animals that you could help but join in!
THINGS I DIDN’T LOVE:
» The Smells: No Asian country we’ve been in has been a bouquet of flowers, by any means, but in Thailand it seems to pass from one extreme to the next in a split second. One minute you smell a delicious curry dish and two steps later you smell raw sewage. It makes it very difficult to enjoy street food while moving or to even enjoy a walk through town. It was bad.
» People Intensely Trying to Sell Me Sex in Bangkok: Once the sun went down all kinds of crazy things came out. People were trying to get us to come to Ping Pong shows, handing us cards from which we could pick our sexual position of preference & a male prostitute even grabbed my arm and invited me in at one point… It was a bit much for me, and I could have done without a man shouting “F*** Show 100 baht” at me as I was shopping at a market stall.
Tara: To be fair, Tara may have seemed like a 5 star resort in my mind because we had just come from 10 days at Safari Park with no a/c during days with temperatures over 100 degrees. Regardless, it was still pretty nice. We had one night in the more expensive room, which was 250 baht (a little over $8) each. This was our nicest night. We had a balcony, A/C, the cushiest mattress, a really nice shower, and a TV with an HGTV-esque channel on it! Oh my gosh, It was a veg-fest! We spent the evenings watching movies or that channel and eating a bag of junk food from 7elven that we got for less than $2. Plus, it had a pool. We hadn’t had a pool since our very first hostel over a month ago. It was nice to feel like we were living a biro g a life of luxury. The other two nights we stayed in a room that was 175 baht each. It still had A/C and a TV, but it was in no way spacious and had a shared bathroom, but it was still very nice and I would stay at it again in a heartbeat.
TOP THREE SITES / EXPERIENCES:
» Safari Park Volunteer Zoo: I feel like nothing I did or ever will do in Thailand will top my 10 days volunteering here. I fed, bathed and rode (bareback) elephants (one of my favorite animals), I cuddled with leopard cubs, pet lions and a tiger, handfed monkeys and bears, walked a leopard and bottle fed a lion cub. Does it get more exciting than that? Apart from these amazing experiences that I never dreamed I’d be bale to do, I also felt a whole different kind of fulfilled from traveling. I loved working on enrichment projects here to try to better the lives of the animals. I felt that even things like deep-cleaning monkey enclosures and shoveling zebra poo was work that felt worthwhile and has sparked a whole new kind of interest in the way I travel.
» Sri Maha Mariamman Temple: I had never been to a Hindu temple before and being able to have two separate but unique experiences at this temple dedicated to Kali was really amazing. We went to part of an actual service where we met the most incredible young man who explained things to us, and told us (as we were leery of going in with shorts on) that our clothes didn’t matter, it only mattered that we had a clean heart. It was so sweet and such beautiful words from someone whose first language was not English. The second experience was just as beautiful and was filled with blessings from priests and offerings from us to Kali. This was just such a new and beautiful moment of my life.
» Songkran: To be honest, I didn’t realize that we were going to be in Thailand during Thai New Year until some of Matt’s best friends who were in Thailand right before us brought it to our attention, and I’m so glad that we decided to celebrate Songkran. We were at Safari Park when the week-long celebration started. We had a battles with the staff, we were ambushed by our English class students while in town, we had a gentle moment of Songkran while grabbing beers after work & one crazy day of celebrating in Kanchanaburi with our friends from the zoo! It was a lot of fun to be able to cut lose, have a Chang or two and join in the festivities together.
THAILANDISMS (“oddities” & culture shock):
» Sex Tourism is VERY Real: I had heard all of these stories about Bangkok’s crazy nightlife, and I am here to tell you, that as far I as I saw they were all true. I can’t say for sure that you can have sex for next to nothing because I would never partake in anything of the sort. I have to admit though, curiosity got the better of me when it came to this mysterious (to me) Ping Pong Show. We somehow found ourselves in a club (Club? Theatre? I don’t know what exactly to call a place like this) called P**** Magic. I was basically horrified by what I saw. Men were leaving rooms handing over a small stack of baht and I looked over at a stage that had about 7 women in all different levels of naked, one of which was, I’m trying to put this delicately, pulling a sting of flowers about 10 feet long out of herself. My mind was blown. This was really a thing. There was a whole list of shows and when they handed us a Ping-Pong paddle before anything even started, I knew that I had seen enough. I will never look at a Ping-Pong ball the same again.
» 7elevens Are the Best: Our friend Mark that we met in Laos told us about 7elevens being everywhere, and he was not kidding. Are you ready for the best part, though? You can buy a carton of chocolate milk, a bag of chips, a box of moon pies, a bottle of water & two packages of cough drops for less than three dollars! I found myself making several 7eleven runs for night train snacks, cheap toasties for lunch and a number of other things like laundry detergent and shampoo!
» Try to see real Thailand: Perhaps we did see real Thailand, but I think we missed out by not making it to Chiang Mai. Because we spent 10 days volunteering, 3 in days Bangkok and 3 days in Koh Tao, it didn’t feel like we got to take in as much Thai culture. To me Koh Tao was only a Thai Island because it’s physically in Thailand, it didn’t feel as though I was in Asia at all. Volunteering we did have some really amazing cultural experiences, but we still spent most of our time with Westerners and Bangkok was accidently spent most of our time shopping by losing track of time at the weekend market, in the big mall & getting sucked into night markets.
» Bartering in Bangkok was all over the place: In some market stalls we got things 75% off and in other they were firm with the original price. I guess go for what you want to pay and see what happens.
THAILAND WAS A PLACE I VISITED EXPECTING TO COMPLETELY FALL IN LOVE WITH BASED ON WHAT EVERYONE WE MET THROUGH CAMBODIA AND LAOS SAID. WHILE WE DID ENJOY SO MANY ASPECTS OF OUR TRIP, I AM NOT ITCHING TO COME BACK THE WAY THAT MANY OTHERS ARE. WHEN I COME BACK TO THAILAND IT WILL BE TO VISIT CHIANG MAI AND VOLUNTEER AGAIN AT SAFARI PARK ZOO. I’M SO GRATEFUL TO HAVE HAD THE EXPERIENCES THAT I HAD AND I CAN’T WAIT TO HAVE MORE AND SHARE THOSE WITH MATT. ALSO, I HAVE TO GIVE A HUGE SHOUTOUT TO STACEY FOR REALLY PUSHING ME TO WORK THROUGH MY FEAR OF THE BIG CATS AND EXPERIENCE THE THINGS THAT I DID, AND FOR LITERALLY HOLDING MY HAND & DOING “SHARK CHECKS” WHILE WE SNORKELED IN THE OPEN WATER.
WITH LOVE, FROM THAILAND