Over the next 6-7 weeks I will be writing a post a week to share my experiences of travel, food, education, and adventure in one of the most wonderful countries in the world, Thailand.
I first studied Thai Massage in Thailand in 1991. This year’s trip is my third in the last six years for Thai Massage continuing education courses. For the first time since 1991 I am also vacationing; this time with family (my husband Shaun and sister Melanie) and our dear friend Debbie, as well as hosting a study tour of Canadian Natural Health Practitioners (from the NHPC) who are coming to Thailand to learn Thai Massage for the first time.
The four of us will travel from the city of Bangkok (over 6.5 million people), to Khao Sok National Park, to the south west island of Ko Yao Noi (a small nature lovers island with a tight-knit Muslim community in this predominantly Buddhist country), and finally to Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand.
Shaun, myself, and Debbie left January 1st at 10 am flying through Vancouver, and Beijing, to Bangkok arriving at 12:30 am January 3rd. Khao San Road, where our hotel was located, was partying at top volume until the police shut it down at 4 am. We moved to a quieter room at the back of the hotel the next day. We visited the spectacular Wat Arun (the Dawn Temple made of glazed porcelain tiles and seashells), took a longboat ride through the canals, ate our first delicious thai lunch at “the Gate” across the street from Wat Pho (temple of the Reclining Golden Buddha) before heading home for a cocktail and a swim in the Dang Derm Hotel rooftop pool. The rooftop view was stunning, overlooking the Royal Palace, Wat Pho, Wat Arun and all of central Bangkok.
That night partiers arriving to their room across the hall from us at 4 am turned on the dance music top volume and continued their party until I went down to reception to request an intervention. Needless to say sleep was a bit elusive our first few days in Bangkok.
The lack of sleep didn’t stop us from exploring the spectacular Jim Thompson House, and the Emerald Buddha at the Royal Palace the next day. Jim Thomson’s story is fascinating but too long to include in full here. In brief, he was an American engineer and entrepreneur who fell in love with Thailand, moved to Bangkok, had 6 Traditional Thai homes joined together unconventionally, and filled them with art, Thai silks, antiques, and all things of Asian beauty. He was central in reviving Thai silk production using his contacts to market Thai silk to fashion houses in New York and made them highly popular after they were used in the Broadway Production of “The King and I.” For his contribution to the development of the Thai Silk industry, Jim Thompson was awarded the Order of the White Elephant, a decoration bestowed upon foreigners for having rendered exceptional service to Thailand. Thompson’s success story in Thailand has become one of the most popular postwar legends of Asia. After living in his beautiful home for only 7 years he mysteriously disappeared into the jungle of Cameron Highlands in Malaysia in 1967 never to be seen again. His home is now a stunning and well organized museum, shop, restaurant and cafe.
We ate another delicious lunch at Sala Rattanakosin overlooking the Chao Phraya River towards Wat Arun. At the Royal Palace we hired a local guide named Punch, a young Thai man who had studied Linguistics in Atlanta, Georgia. His humour, knowledge, and willingness to answer our questions, as well as a number of other tourists’ along the way, charmed us all.
We met my sister, who had flown in from Beijing via Vancouver that afternoon, on our rooftop for another swim, cocktails and then a great dinner at Madame Masur on Soi Rambutri.
The next morning all four of us left for Surat Thani on Thai Smile Airways, and caught a taxi to the Royal Cliff Resort and Spa on the edge of Khao Sok National Park. Our charming Thai style cabins faced the newly constructed pool surrounded by the exotic limestone cliffs. The Royal Cliff team of Mr A, Miss Mew, Miss May, and Mr. Boy considered every detail, remembering our names, providing us with towels and water for the hot springs, toiletries for our overnight stay on Chatow Lake Reservoir, and arranging our transportation to our next destination, the island of Ko Yao Noi. That afternoon we visited the Monkey Temple, and soaked in the scorchingly hot hot springs.
We were to have bathed the Elephants in the river as well, but once we arrived at what we thought was an Elephant Sanctuary, we found that they supported the riding of Elephants. We left explaining we wouldn’t support the unethical treatment of Elephants (in order for anyone to ride an Elephant it has been tortured). Fortunately, there is a growing number of elephant refuge centres in Thailand that are employing sustainable methods to keep elephants healthy and happy while providing rewarding elephant interactions for tourists. We will be visiting one such Sanctuary called the Elephant Nature Park north of Chiang Mai.
Our second day in Khao Sok, we travelled to the Cheow Lan Reservoir, an artificial lake created by the Rajjaprabha (Light of the Kingdom) Hydroelectric Dam in 1982. It took an entire year to flood the 165 square km area and only the original inhabitants of the land are allowed to own and operate floating cabins on the Lake such as the “Smiley Raft House” where we stayed on the lake overnight.
One of the joys of travelling is meeting people from all over the world and connecting instantly and intensely, knowing your time together is short. One of the challenges of travel is being with people that are obnoxious and demanding and being thankful your time together is short. In the close confines of our boat ride to Smiley, we experienced both. Pascael and Alex from Paris were one of the great joys of this excursion.
Once we arrived at Smiley, we swam in the warm water and went kayaking. My sister Melanie and I joined a vigorously challenging jungle trek which included 45 minutes through a wet cave. There were bats, and areas where we were wading in water shoulder height through narrow rock channels! This was definitely an Indian Jones experience. You aren’t allowed to hike through the caves during rain showers as flash floods fill the cave with water. Needless to say the thunder we heard from inside the cave sped us all up as we neared the end of the trek. On our longboat ride back to Smiley Raft House, our group was pelted with rain and winds as we road into the storm that was quickly making its way across the lake. Each of us had a deep long sleep that night the only sounds those of the jungle (far from the big city sounds).
Early the next morning we went on a lake safari to see monkeys feeding in the trees and various birds such as the Hornbill. After breakfast we stopped for another cave hike on our way back to the dock at Rajjaprabha Dam.
Back at the Royal Cliff the next day, we each had a Thai Massage, ate more of their excellent food and soaked up the views as this was our last night before heading to Phuket were we would catch a boat to our Airbnb on the island of Ko Yao Noi.
My sister caught the flu and had a rough last night at Royal Cliff, but was a trooper and soldiered on laying down across the back seat of the minivan that took us to Phuket. By the time we loaded into the boat at Phuket Pier, Melanie was reviving, her energy picking up, bolstered by our collective excitement at arriving on the island we would stay on for an entire week. We met a woman who was volunteering at Island Yoga as their receptionist so now we had a yoga destination to visit on the island. We arrived at our Airbnb late afternoon, were greeted by Kuzuyo who showed us around, and took a walk to the beach where we ate local fish and a Chicken Tikka pizza. While waiting for our food each of us booked in for our massage of choice (Aroma-oil, Coconut Oil, Thai Massage and Indian Head Massage) at JJ Queen Thai Massage next door to the restaurant.
We managed to walk back up the hill to our Airbnb and spent the early evening lounging on our huge open air deck overlooking Phang Nga Bay. It is hard to believe all this has happened in only a week.