We spent our seven month travelversary flying from Auckland to Singapore to Bangkok. This is the first time either of us has been to Asia and Thailand is our first stop on our southeast Asia itinerary. We were especially excited to meet up with three of our friends from Chicago who will travel with us for the next two weeks. It’s been nearly five months since our last visitor and we’re looking forward to the added company and catching up with old friends!
Chris and I arrived at our hostel in Bangkok around 10:30 p.m. and impatiently waited for Jason, Dan and Julie to arrive. After four hours of drinking Changs (Thai lager with 6.5% ABV though apparently the actual percentage is unknown and can vary between beers) they finally arrived! We were so excited to see them that we had a very late night in Bangkok and I forgot to snap a reunion photo.
The next morning, we powered through our Chang-overs in search of some Thai food for breakfast. We followed a few alleys and streets until we rounded the corner into a local food market. We sat down at a small “restaurant” stall where a woman took our orders. Each dish came out one at a time because she only had one burner to cook everything on. I ordered pad thai with shrimp and it was hands down the best I’ve ever had! It was sweet, savory and spicy and cost a little more than $2. Chris had shrimp fried rice and it was good but mine was clearly the table winner.
We walked from our hostel down to the Chao Phraya River where we boarded a ferry to take us up the river to explore the city. We navigated through narrow streets filled with vendors selling everything from electronics, clothes, food, fresh fruit, pre-portioned meals to-go, drinks, jewelry, etc. Whatever you need, you can find on the streets of Bangkok. Thai bacon and eggs anyone? We ended the day on Koh San Road, the gathering place and mecca for backpackers traveling through Bangkok and SE Asia. After a few Changs and a wild tuk tuk ride for five people, we explored the neighborhood around our hostel for dinner and drinks before calling it a night.
We spent the following day walking around Bangkok’s Chinatown. We’ve been to several Chinatowns in the U.S. (San Francisco, New York and Chicago), but this one takes the cake for most authentic. It was a sensory overload. The crowded streets were filled with shops, congested traffic and vendors selling exotic foods. Yes, those are grilled frogs on a stick – yummy. The day before was the Chinese New Year so the area was fully decorated and incredibly festive. People were gathering around the main Chinatown gate and temple to pray and light incense. That evening we were back at Koh San Road to catch our overnight bus to the beach. Koh San Road is lined with bars, restaurants, shops and massage parlors. At night, backpackers flock to the area and the streets and surrounding alleys come alive with activity. With a few hours to kill before we departed, we spent our time feasting on pad thai from the local street vendors ($1.50) and splurging on foot massages ($6 for 30 minutes). When we awoke from our overnight bus/ferry combo, we were on the island of Koh Tao. We disembarked the ferry and went to work finding a place to stay. We scored a beach house right on the water for five people – it was perfect! We literally spent the entire day swimming in the water and walking on the beach (while fitting a few Changs in, of course). At night, we caught a fire show on the beach. We’ve seen fire shows before but this one was impressive (even to Julie who now lives in Hawaii). One of the highlights was when one of the guys swung two beach-ball sized balls of fire around in the air creating a whirlwind of flying fire. It was beautiful and completely unexpected.The show started to become interactive with the audience. They lit a long jump rope on fire and encouraged the audience to run in and jump. I read about these several years ago. A lot of inebriated tourists will attempt it but will end up with burns on their bodies. We sat there watching and my heart started to race, which is the first sign that I really want to do something. Without telling anyone, I stood up and ran into the jump rope of fire. I jumped twice before I thought I should probably get out. I wasn’t worried about burns on my body, I was more worried about burning all of the hair off my scalp. When I ran out, I started to think the rope was going to catch me on the head so in front of the entire audience, I ninja rolled out of the line of fire. I wish we had photos but it was such a spontaneous decision, no one was prepared to capture the moment. Although the fire on the rope was on its way out, a few minutes later, Chris jumped in and I was able to take a short video:
The next morning, we rented kayaks and snorkel gear so we could explore Koh Nang Yuan, an island just a few kilometers away from Koh Tao. It took about 35 minutes before Chris and I reached the shore. We were disappointed with the snorkeling because most of the coral was dead so we took a walk around one of the islands on the sketchiest walkway we’ve ever been on. We met someone a day before who was on crutches and when I asked what happened, they replied that they were on a bridge that collapsed. This must have been where it happened. With three civil and construction engineers in our group, we tiptoed around on the support beams while other tourists ran past us without any worry. A fire jump rope… no problem, but a sketchy bridge ready to collapse? Now that is scary. The walk and climb up the makeshift stairs to the scenic overlook was well worth the journey over to the three small adjoining islands. It was beautiful! That evening, we stocked up on provisions for our evening journey from Koh Tao to Koh Phi Phi. After an overnight ferry, tuk tuk, bus, mini-van and another ferry, we arrived in Koh Phi Phi the next morning. The boys found another room for five people just a few yards from the beach. We spent the day eating, swimming and soaking in our surroundings. We spent the evening roaming along the crowded streets people watching. The highlight was the street food and watching Jason play with a monkey. The next morning Jason and Dan left to catch the early ferry to Phuket while Chris, Julie and I hired a longboat to take us to the nearby islands to snorkel and explore before catching a late afternoon ferry. Koh Phi Phi is nice but the main attractions are the uninhabited islands next door. We stopped at Monkey Bay to see more monkeys but the best parts were our visits to Pi-leh Bay and Maya Bay. People flock to Maya Bay to see the utopia featured in the movie The Beach. The island is crowded with boats and tourists but for good reason, it’s gorgeous! The three of us caught our ferry to Phuket and cleaned up before meeting Dan and Jason out at Patong Beach. The main road along Patong Beach, Bangla Road, is the Bourbon Street of Phuket. It is wild. It is overly entertaining. It is awesome. Sorry, no crazy pictures of the evening’s events for our PG-13 audience, you’ll just have to use your imagination. We spent our last day in Phuket finalizing logistics for our last week in Thailand with our friends. We stole away for a couple of minutes to check out the beach before heading to the airport for our flight to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand.This past week has been a whirlwind! We are moving much quicker than normal because there is so much to see and do while we have visitors here. It’s been incredible to share this time with our friends and we have a lot more planned for their last week!