*This post was originally published on December 14th, 2011 on amywarcup.com
It is difficult to explain how I have felt upon return to the United States. There is this odd mix I feel of an almost painful nostalgia, confusion over time and space, and relief –that I am healthy, alive, and home in time for the American winter holiday, Christmas. Missing Thanksgiving was odd, but I’m certain being away for Christmas would have been much harder. So, I feel grateful for having this life experience of spending time in Thailand, and am thankful for all of the wonderful people in my life at home. Still, I feel changed forever. I may have left Thailand, but Thailand will never leave me. I excitedly await the opportunity to take students back with me in June, 2012.
Memories of my recent trip haunt me like a shadow. When I least expect it, I will relive an experience as if I’ve never come home. I’ve spent much time thinking about my favorite aspects of this beautiful culture, the biggest challenges I faced, and my fondest and most unforgettable moments. I will share these in three blog posts, beginning with Part I, My “best of” list:
Food: Chiang Mai.
Oh, the food was amazing everywhere. It is really difficult to pick just one location. If I must, I’d say my favorite restaurants were in Chiang Mai, but that may be in part because I was also there the longest. I strongly feel that one can find good food in Thailand just about anywhere, as long as you enjoy Thai food.
Massage: South Koh Samui.
I had numerous amazing massages everywhere that I visited in Thailand. The best one, though, was given to me by this petite middle-aged Thai woman in a simple little place in south Koh Samui. I was at my yoga retreat at Samahita, which offered wonderful, but relatively pricey (for Thailand) treatments. Word got around, however, that there was this amazing little woman who gave massages only about a 20 minute walk “up the street,” and, she charged only 200 baht for 90 minutes (about $7.60 USD). She definitely lived up to her reputation, in my opinion. Although she didn’t speak a word of English, she took one look at me, and knew exactly where my pain was, and her technique was slow and deep, and she used her handmade natural salves and pain relievers, too. ..Just heavenly.
Night Market: Luang Prabang, Laos
Although I loved the Sunday walking market in Chiang Mai and the Friday night market in Bo Phut, there is nothing quite like the nightly market on Sisavangvong Road in Luang Prabang. Just thinking of the handicrafts, food, and exotic clothes at this market makes me long to go back to Laos. Here, one can eat a full plate of delicious Laotian food for only 6,000 Kip, get a large mango or cappuccino muffin at the bakery for dessert along with a delightful cup of fresh ginger tea or rich coffee (or drink a Beer Laos), purchase a gorgeous hand-woven comforter, find items to decorate the entire house, and find a gift to fit the variety of personalities of every friend back home. The lively bartering and friendly people make this market all the more appealing.
Temples: Tie: Chiang Mai and Luang Prabang
I just couldn’t pick just one place. Both cities have stunning temples, and one could easily spend a couple of days doing nothing other than visiting these lovely Buddhist havens. If you are lucky, as I was a couple of times, you may arrive when the monks are chanting in the temple. If this happens, be sure to stay and listen for a while. It is truly a hauntingly beautiful experience.
Place to Chill Out: Tie: Koh Samui and Pai
Another category in which I could not choose just one – it really depends on your personal preference. If you are looking for a laid-back earthy mountain experience with plenty of both Thai and farang artsy/hippie people, great little cafes and reggae music, plenty of art studios and handicraft shops, and a true nature/jungle experience, go to Pai. Don’t forget your insect repellant.
However, if you are interested in beaches, white sand, gulf water with almost bath-like temperatures, Thai/French-fusion restaurants, and plenty of honeymooning western tourists (unless you venture to the quiet south part of the island), then definitely consider visiting Koh Samui. Also, for scuba diving lovers, take a ferry boat out of BoPhut to nearby island, Koh Tao.
Thai dish: Khao Soy
This one is easy for me. I absolutely fell in love with this Northern/Burmese influenced Thai dish, which combines noodles, a thick, rich coconut curry sauce, exotic mushrooms, greens, and crispy noodles and cream sauce on top. It is typically made with chicken, but Chiang Mai has several restaurants that make this with tofu for vegetarians.
Coffee: Luang Prabang
Yes, I’ve raved about the coffee in Laos plenty. I’ve never had such an exquisite cup of coffee in my life as I had in Luang Prabang. I must give some credit to a place in Pai, however, called Art in Chai. Their coffee is easily nearly as amazing as it was in Laos.
Chai Tea: Art in Chai – Pai, Thailand
Speaking of Art in Chai, I had the most incredible cup of chai tea in my life at this cute little artsy bungalow café in Pai. If you are a chai tea lover and visit Pai, be sure to order a cup. It takes a little while for them to make it, since each cup is made fresh, but it will be well worth the wait.
Night life: Bangkok
Okay, well I must give this amazing metropolis credit. There really is no place else in the world like Bangkok. It is one of the most lively and even bizarre places I’ve ever visited. With the city’s modern rooftop clubs, nightly markets, blocks of restaurants featuring any type of international cuisine imaginable, and hundreds of massage centers and spas on every corner, you could easily keep yourself entertained until the morning hours.
Airline: Bangkok Airways
I flew with a total of six different airlines during this trip alone. Although I’m sure some travelers out there have much more experience with airlines than I do, I do feel my airline flying experience is pretty thorough. That being said, I have never been as impressed with an airline as I have with Bangkok Airways. On a 1-hour flight, they served an entire meal, along with a hot and cold beverage. Before departure, the airline had their own comfortable private lounge with a buffet of delicious free Thai food and free internet access. The plane itself was spotless, including the “hungnam” (restroom).
People watching: Bangkok
Within about ten minutes, one can see monks, call girls, lady boys, stray dogs, tourists of every age from practically every country around the planet, and sometimes even elephants in just one sitting.
Place to make friends: Chiang Mai
Well, of course, this is personal. I believe one can make new friends just about anywhere in Thailand. Most Thai people are generally kind everywhere. For me, I made the most friends in Chiang Mai, but I was also there for five weeks. My suggestion for making friends in Thailand, especially if traveling alone, is to take a class or workshop somewhere. Being at the Old Medicine Hospital for two and a half weeks certainly provided the opportunity to really get to know people, especially since we were learning Thai massage and partnering up with one another. I had a similar experience in my yoga retreats, both in Koh Samui and in Pai. Even the one day workshops can provide the opportunity to meet people. When I visited the Elephant Nature Park, there were two other women in my tour group that day that were traveling solo as well. The three of us hit it off, and I think we had the most fun in our group that day.
Favorite Hang Out: Utopia in Luang Prabang
This amazing bamboo-thatched emporium overlooks the Mekong River, and is the ultimate respite for doing nothing. My first visit here I was drawn to just lay on one of the cushions and just stare off into the Mekong and dream of lazy, sunny Laotian days. The restaurant, which is much more like a retreat center, not only has delicious Laotian food and delectable banana-coffee shakes, but also features live reggae music at night and yoga classes in the morning.
Most stunning sight: Wat Rong Khun aka “The White Temple” in Chiang Rai
The photos say it all. This was the closest I’ve ever come to feeling like I was visiting a real castle. It looked just like a fairytale.
Hotel: Chiang Rai
Well, I loved my guest house that I lived in for a month in Chiang Mai. It felt like home. For pure unique novelty, however, I cannot resist giving the prize in this category to the Red Rose Hotel in Chiang Rai. After all, how often does one get the opportunity to sleep in a cartoony version of a UFO room? I also never slept so well in a hotel before. In fact, I may have slept too well. My first night there I forgot to set my alarm and slept for almost twelve hours.
Beverage: Fresh Coconut (with a straw)
Oh, how I love the delightfully sweet beverages in Thailand. There are literally street stands and cafes that sell fruit shakes and lassis everywhere, and they are amazing. The menus for fruit shakes are substantial, too – mango, papaya, pineapple, banana, fresh berries…the list goes on. Laos also had the most delectable Oreo/ banana/coffee shakes. Yes, you read that correctly. My favorite drink of all, however, is the pure, simple coconut. Women on the streets would set up fruit stands with coconuts, and cut a hole in the top and place in a straw. After drinking the delicious juice, I enjoyed scooping out the coconut meat with a spoon. It almost felt like eating a meal. I must admit that I’m really missing my daily coconut.
Breakfast: Mink’s home cooked breakfasts at the Ing Doi House in Pai
Nobody can cook like Mink, the lady of the house at the Ing Doi House and Yawning Fields bungalows in Pai. Much like Lao Tzu said of the Tao, it just cannot be explained in words, but rather, it must be experienced directly by oneself. Her breakfasts are my favorite.
I could go on here, but I will limit my list, for now. In Part II of my reflections, I will share some of the biggest challenges and annoyances I faced in Thailand. However, even the greatest of challenges could never steer me away from visiting the Land of Smiles again.
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2 Responses to Thailand Reflections, Part I: My “Best of” list
Ali McGhee says:
December 14, 2011 at 5:51 am
This is a great post and something I will keep for if I (*when* I) go to Thailand! I’m totally stealing this idea for a post as well Happy holidays!
Brenda Voorhees says:
December 17, 2011 at 8:14 pm
Thank you so much for sharing these great stories…..this is the first time I have been able to catch up on your blogs,looking forward to more reading. Welcome Back!