So, as I write this post, Chelsea and I are currently in day 12 of our Southeast Asia adventure. When we decided to begin this blog, we thought that we would have more time to write posts and thus have super detailed descriptions of our experiences. Well, we were wrong. We have been doing much more running around than expected and this has left us with less time to blog.
In order to catch us up, I wanted to write one post that gives an overview of what we’ve done from days 4 to 11. As I find the time, I will write more detailed posts of each day and link them here, but initially they will be short excerpts.
Day 4 – A Wat, A Market, A Train
Day 4 marked our last day in Bangkok for this go-round, as we were scheduled to take the night train north to Chiang Mai. Chelsea and I (sadly) departed Baan Dinso with our belongings and decided to take the 45 minute walk to the Hua Lumphong train station.
Soaked with sweat, we arrived at the train station and dropped our bags at a luggage storage shop. Our train was scheduled to depart at 7:00pm so we had a few hours to spend in the city. We first stopped Wat Trai Mit, a gorgeous temple that houses the largest solid gold Buddha statue in the world.
After the wat, we took the metro from the Hua Lamphong station to Chatuchak Park, where the Chatuchak weekend market takes place.
The market has over 8,000 stalls, selling everything from food to pets to motorbikes. Needless to say, we were overwhelmed. After eating some delicious fried chicken, fried pork belly, tiny pineapples, and downing a strawberry-yogurt smoothie, we retraced our steps and took the metro back to Hua Lamphong.
After a few Changs in front of the station, we grabbed our bags and made our way to our train. We heard mixed information about the availability of food on the train, so we stocked up with snacks. This wasn’t necessary, as passengers can order dinner and breakfast (albeit for a high price) while on the train.
After working on the blog some and getting a little bit of reading in, we crawled into our converted beds and slept.
Day 5 – Chiang Mai
We both awoke on the train at around 6:30am, and Chelsea crawled into the bottom bunk with me so we both could watch the countryside go past. I didn’t realize that we both fell asleep until the conductor walked down the hall, gently announcing that Chiang Mai would be in a few stops.
From the train station, we took a red taxi to the Golden Fort Guesthouse. Our room wasn’t ready, so we dropped our bags and hit the city. That day, we visited Wat Phan Tao, Wat Chedi Luang, the Sunday market, Wat Phan On, and the Three Kings monument. Tired, and in need of a shower, we headed back to the guesthouse after a few Chang beers.
That night, we decided to stay local for dinner. We ate at Tang Nueng, which is around the corner from the Golden Fort guesthouse. The food was awesome, but the memorable part was being given bug spray to apply before our meal. From there, we sought traditional Thai massages from the Women’s Massage Center by Ex-Prisoners (Branch 3). Leaving our masseuses, Chelsea and I were totally invigorated and decided to see some live music. We found a bar that normally has live music, but didn’t while we were there. A few Changs later, we found ourselves in the middle of the Chiang Mai night market. We walked around there, checking out the clothes, food and knick-knacks for sale. Our day ended a little early, in preparation for a vigorous next day.
Day 6 – Elephant Nature Park
Seeing elephants was one of the main reasons for our visit to Chiang Mai and it was totally worth it. We booked two, all-day volunteer spots at a project with Elephant Nature Park. Our guide, Sunshine, picked us up at our guesthouse and, along with a lovely couple from Charleston, we rode the 1.5 hours to the project.
The day began with a transfer from our comfy, air-conditioned van to the back of an enclosed pickup truck. We rode on an unpaved (and perhaps non-existent) road until we met with the elephants. Among our small group of four volunteers we had three elephants to pamper. We first fed them, then we walked with them as they continued to feed on the shrubs nearby. The elephants led us to the caretakers’ camp, alongside a nearby river.
There we had lunch, which was a six-step process which Sunshine carefully outlined. Our meal ended as we began to make a special “super food” mixture for the elephants, consisting of salt, rice, some spices, and fruit. We rolled these into softball-sized spheres and set them aside. Sunshine then asked us to cut some pumpkin and watermelons, which we did as we watched our three elephant friends trying to clamber past a gate towards us and the fruit. We fed the elephants the freshly cut fruit, then walked down to the water with them.
There, the elephants made their way into the water as we followed. Their caretakers showed us how to bath and scrub them with sand and water from the river. Sitting in the water, the three elephants seemed to enjoy their baths. As the elephants left the river to dry off, a few water fights ensued among the volunteers and caretakers. After a quick swim, we fed the elephants their super food mixture, said goodbye then crossed the river by bamboo raft to access our waiting van.
Back in Chiang Mai, we showered, planned the next step in our journey, then went out for a late dinner. Exhausted, we tried to walk through the city, but quickly headed back to the guesthouse for a good nights sleep.
Day 7 – A Hike and a Surprise Boat Ride
We decided that it was time to leave Chiang Mai and found cheap flights to Krabi, a beach town in southern Thailand. With a 3:30pm flight, we had time in the morning to see Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, a Buddhist temple atop a mountain within Chiang Mai.
Leaving our bags at the guesthouse, we found a taxi that would take us straight up to the top, wait for two hours, then take us back to our guesthouse. Sitting in the back of the red taxi, we held onto what we could as the car twisted and turned up the mountain. The fumes were a little bit much at times, but before long we arrived at the top. Our driver showed us to the steps of Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, and even offered to take some pictures of me and Chelsea.
We climbed to the top of the steps and paid our fee (~100 THB) to enter the wat. The complex consisted of several small temples surrounding a large golden stupa. While this was definitely stunning, the biggest take away was the view from the top.
We took our time down the stairs and proceeded to “hike” further up the mountain along the windy street. The mountain is actually a national park, so we knew that there were hiking trails in the area. Unfortunately, we had some trouble finding these trails. We arrived at the lodging area for the park, and found a few small trails there. As we tried to find one last trail. our driver found us and urged us to go back with him to Chiang Mai. Exhausted, we agreed.
Back in Chiang Mai, we had lunch then found time to visit the Women’s Massage Center once again for another Thai massage. After that, we collected our things, took a red taxi to the Chiang Mai airport and flew to Krabi Airport.
While waiting, we began to look up the best route to our hotel in Railay from the airport. Google Maps showed no possible way to get there by car or walking, so a quick search showed that Railay is only accessible… by boat. We found that boats leave from several locations, Krabi Town being one of them, so we took a 90 THB bus there. After some confusion at Krabi Town (and 120 THB) later, we arrived at Nopparat Thara beach and found a boat that would take us to Railay for 250 THB each. Along with five others, we rolled up our pants and walked into the water before climbing into the longtail boat.
A 30 minute ride took us to West Railay. We walked across the peninsula, a ten minute endeavor, and eventually reached the Avatar Railay Resort. After check-in, Chelsea and I found the Thai Family restaurant for dinner, then retreated back to the hotel for bed.
Day 8: Railay
Exhausted from the long night before, Chelsea and I slept until 9:00am. We had breakfast then immediately headed out to see the Railay lagoon and viewpoint, wanting to get there early enough to avoid the crowds.
We walked down the East Railay coast, following the “Lagoon ->” signs until we arrived at a spot on the side of a mountain with warning signs about continuing.
With our Keen-brand shoes and an urge for some heavy-duty hiking, Chelsea and I braved the climb up the mountain side. We continued to the lagoon, having to go down again in order to reach the watery paradise. Needless to say, it was one of the most beautiful places either of us have seen.
We left as soon as the crowds began to form, making sure to stop by the viewpoint before heading back down the mountain again.
From there, we continued along the East Railay path until we came to Princess Beach. We explored some of the caves there before walking along the beach and cooling off in the water. Late in the day, we went back to the hotel to shower and relax.
Wanting a nice sunset, we headed north along the East Railay path towards the Tew Lay Bar. This place had bamboo platforms that extended out over the ocean and offered a great view of East Railay and the sunset.
Day 9: Kayaking, Monkeys, Spelunking
Wanting some more time on the sea, we chose our ninth day for kayaking. For 500 THB, we rented two individual kayaks for two hours. While we moved slow in our tiny plastic boats, we were able to see a great deal. We first visited an isolated island that contained a multitude of tiny, pumice-like rocks hanging from trees. From there, we went across the Railay West beach and visited two rock formations in the open water. One of them offered an opportunity for use to explore a cave in our kayaks, and Chelsea didn’t hesitate to go in.
Not used to such physical exertion, we were both exhausted by the time it came to return our boats. After our kayak trip, we swam a bit then retreated for lunch and a nap. We suited back up and visited the Pranang-Nai cave. It reminded both of us of a much smaller Carlsbad Caverns, but even so this had mighty beautiful formations still.
Walking back from the cave, we found ourselves in the middle of a downpour and took refuge under a rock overhang. From there, we were able to watch a troop of monkeys move about the trees right before us.
Along the same rock wall, we noticed an opening and Chelsea wanted to head right in. I followed, curious but apprehensive. We explored the cave a bit, finding ourselves adopting rock climbing skills to move throughout it.
After this long day, we had dinner in East Railay, then headed back to the hotel to rest up.
Day 10: Goodbye Railay
For our last day in Railay, we wanted to get an early start to things. We headed down to breakfast around 8:00am, walking through a little drizzle to get there. As we were eating, the little drizzle turned into a harsh, windy downpour, soaking us and shutting off the electricity to the hotel. We retreated to our room.
Once the rain slowed, we visited Princess Beach for one last cave exploration. High tide slowed our progress, so we watched a group of rock climbers attempt some routes on a nearby wall.
We checked out of our hotel then tried Princess Beach one last time, around 11:00am, only to find that it was still high tide. Chelsea and I decided to find one last viewpoint of Railay, from the West beach. We hiked up the side of a mountain, trying to follow a steep, overgrown path. Near the top, we stopped our progress as we came to a point when a rope climb was necessary to move up a completely vertical rock face. If it hadn’t rained earlier, we would have continued. Regardless, we found a satisfactory viewpoint before slowly maneuvering down the mountain.
On our way back to the hotel, we met a Spanish family who was looking to rent a longtail boat to Krabi Town. Looking for a deal, we joined them, paying 300 THB each for the trip. The 40 minute journey was bumpy but offered great views of the stunning coast.
Once in Krabi Town, we checked into the Amity Poshtel before making our way to a market for food. After having our fill of chicken, pork and fried dough, we walked through Krabi Town, settling for a coffee the Easy Cafe. Our taste buds heightened, we found a lingering desire for our old friend Chang, and found a nearby newer bar for a few drinks.
After a little bit of rain, we made our way down the riverside, finding a bar across from the Crab Statue. One last Chang with some live music ended our night in Krabi Town.
Day 11: End of Thailand, Take One
Day 11 marked our last day in Thailand, on our first go-round. We skipped breakfast at the hostel, opting instead for a local place down the corner. Pork soup, salapao, shrimp dumplings and fish balls filled our stomachs in preparation for the day.
After breakfast, we went on the search for tickets to the airport shuttle bus. We retraced our steps from our first bus ride through Krabi Town on Day 7. Luckily we found the station, paying 90 THB each for a bus ticket. Our staff member told us that the bus would pick us up at an Esso gas station near our hostel. Weary of this, we made our way back to the hostel.
We checked out around 11:00am, taking our bags with us as we visited Wat Kaew Korawaram. Saying goodbye to our dog friends, we left for the Esso gas station.
We arrived at the Esso 15 minutes early, not knowing what sense of time we were dealing with. We waited by the curb, searching desperately in the distance for the familiar large, white bus. Ten minutes after our scheduled pickup time, the bus rolled to a stop before us and we climbed in. After 30 minutes on the bus we arrived at the Krabi Airport.
The flights from Krabi to Bangkok and Bangkok to Hanoi went without any problems. In Vietnam for the first time, we had to present our E-Visa to immigration control. I expected a delayed, complicated process, but after handing our E-Visa slip and my passport to the guard, he stamped my passport and waved me past with a smile.
After picking up a SIM card and using the ATM, we decided on taking a shuttle van from the airport to our hotel. For 120,000 VND per person, we made the 40 minute journey to our hotel, even receiving free water and a snack along the way.
At our hotel, we checked in, dropped our bags, then wandered into the Hanoi night searching for food. We first stopped at a restaurant in a night market, though the prices were more than we wanted to pay (300,000 to 500,000 VND). We instead found a Bahn Mi cart run by a pleasant woman. She made us our first Bahn Mi for 15,000 VND. Needless to say, we scarfed the sandwich down before searching for more edibles. We stumbled on a few plastic stools on the sidewalk surrounding tiny plastic tables. An older woman was sitting by a large pot, and she welcomed us to two open stools.
We both shared one bowl of pork soup, sipping on a warm Hanoi beer. Filled and satisfied, we made our way back to the hotel for a good night’s sleep.