Out of all the places in the world that we have traveled to, Thailand and Cambodia are amongst our top favorite countries. Our Thailand itinerary was not hurried, it was peaceful and relaxing.
The atmosphere of these two countries is the most friendly and peaceful that I have experienced anywhere. Crime on tourists in both Thailand and Cambodia is minimal, with petty crime like pick pocketing being the greatest problem. Not something to fear, more something to keep in mind & don’t flash your valuables. In fact leave fancy jewelry at home.
We were gone for the better part of 18 days. We like to have at least two solid weeks on the ground with a little time to recover from jet lag. There is plenty of time to see the sites, rest, relax and enjoy the fabulous food. We spent 11 days in Thailand and I will share our Thailand itinerary here and our Cambodia itinerary in another post.
Day 1 Bangkok
Arrived to our hotel at about 4 PM. Stopped by the hotel restaurant and enjoyed our first of many delicious Thai meals. Then we went back to our room to take a nap at about 4:30. I knew it was going to be a bit longer than a nap. Going to sleep was no problem and we slept solid until our alarm went off the following day so we could start our first full day in Bangkok.
Day 2 Bangkok
Took a taxi to tour the Thailand Branch of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the morning. That afternoon we took a guided tour of the Thai Palace & surrounding areas. We were driven to our destination by private car, but from there we did a lot of walking, thankful for comfortable shoes. Our guide was friendly & looked after us well. Still a little jet lagged we returned to our hotel, had dinner and relaxed.
Day 3 Bangkok
We were again picked up by private car which we would have for the day. We were driven to the area of our first stop, the Train Market in Bangkok. We did a bit of walking with our guide from the day before through the streets, where locals were selling all sorts of tasty goodies. We sampled quite a few right off their local tiny foos carts. Even purchased a few things to snack on along the way.
Arriving at the Train Market was like nothing we had ever seen. The train tracks lined with merchants selling produce, fish and other goods along the track. When I say along the track I mean within a couple of inches of the rails. There were canopies that hung over the tracks providing shade for merchants and buyers alike.
Then came the sound of the train whistle giving the merchants a couple of minutes to prepare as they quickly raised the canopies that were hanging over the tracks. Everyone stepped away from the tracks by about a foot and the train passed directly through the market within a couple inches of the food and goods that had been neatly displayed along the train track.
The train slowly moved past the market and as it passed each merchant block, the canopies were again lowered and business continued as usual. Amazing.
From there we got back into our private air conditioned car, which was very nice by the way. We stopped briefly to watch palm sugar be made & then made our way to the floating market. We started with a longtail boat ride through many of the canals where we were dropped off & met by our guide at the floating market.
We spent a little time shopping and then she took us to have lunch at one of the local floating food boats. There are about 3 large steps lining the river that serve as seats. You sit down and order up from the boat below. Very local. We felt pretty confident in eating the food that our guide ordered up for us. She was very specific about which places we ate at and a bad case of tummy trouble would not do well for her reputation, especially so since she is a recommended guide from the hotel. So we ate up! A big bowl of Thai noodles, delicious! We also tried some sort of drink from the small boat next to the noodle boat. It was different, very purple, sweet and had some sort of thick soft sweet noodle, kind of like a gummy worm candy in it. It was worth the taste.
We returned to our hotel mid to late afternoon & went up to sit by the beautiful pool, have a snack and maybe a drink. Since we had sampled so much local foods that day we decided that maybe we should try a recommended remedy to protect against any parisites we potentially picked up……a shot of tequila! I drink, but don’t particularly care for the taste of alcohol, so I was apprehensive a bit. We order a single shot of their best tequila, limes and salt. It wasn’t to bad, I actually kind of enjoyed it, but then again I love salt and limes.
That evening we walked to a nearby street market, and ate some mango sticky rice and looked at toursity stuff. We took the first of our many tuk-tuk (pronounced took-took) rides back to our hotel.
Bangkok is a big city, like most. Congested with cars, motorbikes and people. I’m not a city person, but definetly would recommend a couple of nights to just look around. Always felt safe there, people were very friendly and helpful.
Day 4 Travel to Chaing Mai
We generally leave travel days open. That gives us time to make our journey, get checked in to the next hotel and settled at our next hotel, relax and have dinner.
In Chaing Mai we stayed at one of the most beautiful & culturally Thai hotels I could ever imagine. The Pingviman Hotel is a smaller boutique hotel with a friendly & helpful staff that only enhanced the beauty of the hotel itself. Polished wood floors and a massive hand carved teak bed with soft white sheets on a comfy matress. There was nothing I didn’t love about this room and the grounds. Here is our Pingviman Hotel review.
Day 5 Chaing Mai
We enjoyed a lazy morning and went and had our first of many to come, couples Thai massage. I have had many massages in my life, but this was a first for my husband. He loved it & has been a massage junkie ever since. Later that Sunday afternoon we attended the english speaking meeting of Jehovah’s Witnesses & joined some new friends for dinner.
Day 6 Tiger Kingdom in Chaing Mai
The tiger is my favorite animal and I looked forward to visiting the Tiger Kingdom as the highlight of this trip. We booked a tour and were picked up at our hotel by a very nice man. So different from many other countries, Thai people love Americans. They want to know all about you, they are inquisitive, they love American music, especially the oldies and love to practice and learn English.
On the road to the Tiger Kingdom we passed a small elephant sanctuary. I asked to stop as there was a gift market there, possibly a great place to pick up gifts for the grandkids. It delivered, especially for one of our grandsons. They had paper goods made from elephant poo, yes, I said elephant poo. Got him a little notebook that said “Brown is the new Green”. His last name just happens to also be Brown. Score! He thought it was great!!
Although I really wanted to see the tigers I was concerend about their wellbeing. I had read many horror stories & we didn’t want to be a part of that. I did a lot of research and found the Tiger Kingdom. The tigers are not drugged, and they are rotated regularly and spend most of their time in very large enclosures where they can roam around. Truth be told, they don’t roam all that much, they spend much of their time sleeping even in the wild.
We got to pet juvenille tigers, such a thrill. These tigers were not drugged or mistreated I can promise you that. They were playful & behaved much like kids. Controlled by their keeper with a very slender bamboo reed, like you might use to stake up plants in your garden. Used more a guide, not a punishment.
We could have gone in with a giant tiger, but I was kind of apprehensive. In retrospect, compared to the younger tigers, the giant tigers appeared more mellow as if they had done this before. For the younger tigers, everything was new and exciting, including the 3 year old little boy who ran by squeeling with glee on the exterior of the enclosure. Our tiger jumped up from where he had been lieing down and ran to go see what that was. We returned to our hotel but not before grabbing a delicious smoothy at Tiger Kingdom on our way out.
That night I went to a Thai cooking class. It was so much fun and I went alone, without my husband who really wasn’t interested. But that goes to saying how safe I felt in Thailand. I was picked up at our hotel along with several others from various locations. We stopped at a Thai produce market and learned all about some of the staples in Thai cooking. We were then driven to our classroom where we each made a fabulous Thai meal of our individual choice that included my favorite sticky rice. It was beyond delicious! The cooking class was recommended by out hotel. I will write about it more later.
Day 7 Chaing Mai Elephant Nature Park
I thought that the tigers were going to be the highlight of our trip, but honestly it turned out to be the Elephant Nature Park outside of Chaing Mai (pronounced Chang May). We wanted to see the elephants, but wasn’t going to do so if the situation that they were kept in was humane. AgainI had read a lot of sad, sad stories and seen a lot of negative videos. Thankfully I found the Elephant Nature Park, exactly what we were looking for.
All of the elephants there have been rescued. Their backgrounds range from inhumane treatment including being overworked, starved, beaten, confined and chained into small spaces. There were even a few who had been wild, but had happened upon hidden land mines which are still a problem in the mountainous regions.
The elephants arrive at the nature park sick, hurt and emotionally wounded. They are brought to the park with plans to make them well, help them feel safe and loved. Some like those injured by land mines may spend months in a hospital environment in order to heal the massive wound created after stepping on a land mine. Others, need different forms of medical intervention to return them to a healthy state.
We spent an entire day learning about the care of these gentle giants. We saw the massive food prep area where mountainlike quatities of fresh fruits & vegetables are piled. The care program was explained, everything from the mahouts who watchfully look after their keeps day and night to the vast acherage that these elephants roam and play all day, every day.
At the time we were there, there were 70 elephants. Some form families, some are allowed to spend their time alone by the river, being fearful of so much and blinded by previous humans. Pretty much whatever the elephant wants to do, they get too. The acerage is vast with a forest, a river, flat planes, mountains and plenty of muds holes.
You don’t just observe from afar. You get to be right up close. Feed them, talk to them, pet them and even bathe them. You aren’t driven around in a truck, you will walk among them and if they are far away, then you will walk far away. Be prepared with comfortable shoes.
We were served a delicious vegetarian lunch, we had time to just sit back and enjoy the view.
We had been picked up at our hotel and driven to the park in a very nice van, it was just the 2 of us. We had a driver and a guide who filled the nearly 1 hour drive with lots of info and just friendly talk. We had fun playing Name That Tune on the way back.
You can spend the day at the park or you can stay a couple of days or longer and actually volunteer. Having been there once, this is what we would love to do if we ever get back to Chiang Mai.
Be sure to have plenty of sunscreen, a hat, good walking shoes and bottled water with you. Oh and be prepared to get wet!
Day 8 Travel to Karon (Phuket)
We flew into Phuket and it was pouring when we arrived. Rains often in the area so be sure you are prepared. We took a taxi from the airport to Karon which was about 1.5 hrs away, but only because it was rush hour. We drove straight through Phuket to our hotel in Karon, CC’s Hideaway. Really neat little hotel if you are looking for more of a zen feel. They serve fabulous organic food, offer yoga classes on the deck looking overlooking the view, and a super friendly staff.
The Hideaway is a bit out of the way, but they have a regualr shuttle to take you into town and pick you up. It takes about 10 mins to get to most spots on the beach. We just spent the evening hanging out at CC’s.
Day 9 Tour of Phi Phi Islands
We were pciked up at our hotel and taken to the water from where we boarded a nice high speed boat. I tend to get sea sick so I had a patch behind my ear. I was fine, no problem.
We took a full day trip which I would recommend. There is a lot to see and boy is it beautiful. I won’t lie, there are a lot of people out there wanting to see all the beauty as well. It’s still a must see. There are overnight trips where you will wake up with no one around. It’s actually affordable if you are willing to sleep with others on the deck of the boat. Next time we might do that.
It was about an hour away after we left the dock. Our first stop was a beautiful cave with a window crack at the back of the cave looking out on the most beautiful tiny little cove.
From there we went to the famous James Bond Island. Most of us have seen it at the movies. I don’t know, but it was so beautiful even in the movie it seemed like a fantasy like the rest of the movie, but it’s real and it is stunning.
We then went for lunch on a floating Muslem village. It was really a pretty sight as we approached with maybe 20 beautifully painted long tail boats docked. There is no connection to any landmass other than what the village is standing on on the ocean floor. They really are practicing Muslem, so consider dressing appropriately. Beach attire is ok, but good idea to have a modest coverup out of respect. They don’t serve any alcohol.
After lunch we went back into the tiny islands and we boarded rowed rafts that carried just 2 and we went on a peaceful trip through and the waterways surrounding the islands. We got rained on, but it was all good. We then were taken to a small resort island where we could swim, bask in the sun or have a tropical drink to cool off.
We were returned to our hotel in time for a lovely dinner at CC’s restaurant. We were relaxed, salt in our hair and ready for a great nights rest. If you like, you can catch CC’s shuttle into town and enjoy the nightlife. If you are really adventurous, Phuket is about 20-25 mins away by hired car, about $15.
Highly recommend taking a tour of the Phi Phi Islands. We have nothing even close to this type of beauty in the US or Europe that I have seen.
Day 10 Karon
We were lazy this day, slept in, had a leisurely breakfast and headed down into Karon town to have a closer look. There is a lovely beach and beach front shopping and restaurants. We stayed until late afternoon, had an early dinner and returned to begin packing for our 6 AM flight the following morning.
Day 11 Travel Day to Siem Reap, Cambodia
We were picked up by private car at about 3 AM for the approximately 1 hour drive to the airport where caught out flight to Siem Reap, Cambodia. That itinerary follows.
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