Oooh Thailand. This is the main place where I figured I would get Taken but I'm still alive! (And haven't been sold to an Asian prostitution ring!)
Thailand was amazing. Some of the most beautiful, perfect beaches I have ever been to. We arrived at our $25 hotel and since Nate is the one that made all the reservations, I was relatively terrified to see our hotel, expecting a filthy hostel with bathrooms I wouldn't go anywhere near and dirty sheets. Simpletel Hotel at Karon Beach in Phuket was the BEST deal EVER. Super clean, very basic and overall just simple - hence the name. Karon Beach was exactly what I wanted in terms of where I wanted to be in the touristy island of Phuket. Our hotel was 2-3 blocks from the beach and the streets were lined with vendors, shops, restaurants and bars.
We decided to take two separate boat trips to see the other islands. The first day we were off to the famous James Bond Island at Phang Nga Bay. The tour company we went through - Rattanachol Canoeing - was AWESOME! The friendliest staff, amazing tour, great food, on time - pretty much just perfect. We went to a bunch of different islands and lagoons including Hong Island, Panak Island, Khao Ping Kan, Panyee Island and James Bond Island. We went to pristine beaches, saw amazing lagoons and had lunch at a restaurant on this floating village. It's a large Muslim community where about 1000 people live - all on the water. They generate their own power and everything, although it looked a little sketch.
James Bond Island
We also did canoeing at Talu Island which was unexpectedly fascinating. We canoed through massive caves and tiny caves where we had to lay down in our canoes completely to get through. Our guide was awesome (and was selling hash to other canoe guides during our tour) and showed us the best spots around the lagoons. The water is only a few meters deep and during low tide, is only mud. The salt water eats away at all the limestone lagoons so it creates all the crazy caves and formations.
The last stop of the tour were the Ice Cream Caves. We docked the boat and walked into the cave and were greeted by hundreds of creepy, screeching bats. The limestone cave had crazy looking formations from water dripping into it, creating ginormous ice cream looking statues.
Ice Cream Caves
Canoeing at Talu Island
Pretty much a perfect day. Gorgeous beaches and amazing limestone islands. James Bond Island was actually pretty small, but is famous for being in the movie and so it was pretty crowded. There were caves right next to it that were pretty cool also. There was a section where a huge wall of limestone tipped over and fell onto the cave next to it, so it's perfectly diagonal against it. Obviously pictures would do it better justice, but still won't even compare to how beautiful everything was in real life.
So if you ever come to Thailand and do a trip to Phang-Nga Bay, DEFINITELY go through Rattanchol Canoeing. I don't think they have a website but all the tour shops have their pamphlets. They did an amazing job and were the most genuinely nice people. They went out of their way to make sure we were having a good time, always offered to take pictures for us and continuously gave us amazing facts about what we were seeing.
The next day we toured the Phi Phi Islands (pronounced pee-pee islands). This tour wasn't the most amazing but it was still fun seeing more islands. Most of the tour, we were only viewing the islands from the speed boat but it was still spectacular, regardless. The sea sickness tablets I took unfortunately made me very drowsy (when they say just take 1, don't take 2) so I slept a lot of the boat ride. Whoops. But I still got to enjoy some snorkeling, swimming and good sight seeing. Maya Beach was one of the main destinations we were after and was probably the most beautiful beach I've seen yet. However, the hundreds of tourists kinda ruined it. Not that it wasn't still amazing, but it's hard to really enjoy and absorb how gorgeous it is when there are a hundred people crowding the sand. Which was the softest, whitest sand I've ever seen, by the way.
These two tours were quite similar, except for the fact that the Phang-Nga Bay tour was waaaay better. Basically, if you had to choose, obviously choose this one. You pretty much see everything you would see during the Phi Phi Islands tour.
The rest of our Phuket time was spent walking around the town, laying on the beach (& letting off floating lanterns for Alex<3) and going to the bars. Our last night we saw some awesome fire throwers where Nate ended up in a chair while he did his fire-throwing-ness around him to eventually light a cigarette in his mouth. Yes, homeboy spun his fire chains around Nate's face close enough for him to light his cigarette on the fire. I was obviously terrified, although Nate claims it "wasn't scary" (liar).
The next day we were off to Bangkok. We only had one full day here and I HAD to go to the Tiger Temple and Floating Market. Easily the worst tour group I've ever been on (we arranged it through "Pick Me Easy" tours or something - www.pickmeeasy.com
). Horrible from the extremely late pickup due to a car accident, leading to everything else running late which meant less time at each place and the worst, rudest tour guide I've ever met that didn't communicate to us at all. But other than the actual tour & guides, the places we went to were great.
Our first stop was at the Damnern Saduak floating market. Probably a much better concept than it actually was, but still pretty cool. We floated down in a canoe and realized this meant we were actually trapped at each place our canoe driver stopped at so we couldn't as easily get away from the crazy vendors trying to sell us ugly bracelets. And then there was the heat. I felt like I was about to have a heat stroke when we were caught in a boat traffic jam and didn't move for 10 minutes. However, this all was nothing an ice cold beer couldn't easily fix so we were happy campers. It was a fun experience but I wouldn't pay more than the 150 BAHT (aka $5) it cost.
Afterwards we went to the Bridge Over the River Kwai. We had no idea what it was about until a fellow tourist explained: the bridge was built by Asian laborers and was designed to bring WWII POWs to Burma to the death camps. The Japanese designed it and thousands of British people, Aussies and other Allied POWs died during the project. They also made a novel & a movie about it.
NOTE: This was written in 2012, before I learned about the cruelties of this industry. I no longer support tourist attractions that involve wild animals. There are so many authentic experiences you can have while traveling, please THINK before deciding to partake in activities that involve animals. Remember: as travelers, we vote with our money!
We were finally on our way to the Tiger Temple in Kanchanaburi. I had a lot of mixed feelings about going because a lot of people say that they just drug the tigers. We waited in line to see them and a lot of them were sleeping. The workers explained that they have a daily routine and so after they wake up, they play around and eat and then nap again. This is when we're able to get up really close to them and take pictures. One by one, we had one person guide us (& literally hold our hand) while another person took pictures for you. Most of the tigers were in the middle of waking up and some were awake and active. One was pacing back and forth and I swear he was trying to decide who he wanted to eat. It was amazing getting super close up to these ginormous kitty's and they don't even seemed phased - although I don't believe they were actually drugged. Yes, they're tamed but I think it was just that and the fact that it was nap time. We were at the very end of the "picture time" so a lot were waking up and they made sure to pull us away as they were getting up - probably because they would accidentally bite our arm off in a drowsy-stupor.
After pictures, we got to play with the cutest little baby tiger. She was 3 months old and was relatively harmless, minus the giant welts she left on me when she jumped up on me. The monk that was with her let her pretty much loose (still had her long leash attached to the ground) so she could come around and growl at us and let us pet her. She had the cutest little non-growl (resembling Baby Simba in the Lion King) and would even playfully gnaw on your fingers (no, I was not the first one to stick my hand in her mouth to test if she'd bite me. But she didn't).
Definitely glad I decided to come here, even after all the negative reviews. A lot of people said they see them super active at certain times of the day and the worker also said the morning is the best time to come. Unfortunately, Bangkok is 2 hours away.
The rest of the night we enjoyed our AMAZING hotel room - Oriental Residence. Easily the nicest hotel I've EVER stayed at. We were exhausted from all the touring and I'm a sucker for room service, so we mostly relaxed. Until deciding at midnight that we were in Bangkok so we HAD to go out. Not the craziest city I've ever been to, but still fun. We weren't dressed for clubs but we went to a ton of different bars - like the little bus bars they had on the side of the road that opened up to a bar and had stools on the side - and drank til 4am. We try not to be old and boring every now and then.
Thailand definitely treated us well. I even was getting used to the millions of HUGE cockroaches everywhere. Well, maybe just getting a little less scared of them.
We'll be back Thailand!