Ecotopian Highlights from Thailand [PART 1]
Updated: Mar 28, 2019
National parks, markets, and adventures in the Land of Smiles
We’ve spent almost 2 months in Thailand so far, and they’ve passed by in a blur. Thailand has felt different than all the other countries we’ve visited. Everything works easily. There is always food and a delicious beverage available. People are friendly and happy, and want to see you happy. But also -- there are many more Western travelers, and it seems that you have to consciously push yourself to emerge from the ruts of the well-worn tourist trail.
For some reason, this is our first post on Thailand. Maybe this country’s laid-back atmosphere has made us lax about writing? Or we’ve been searching for the most unique experiences to share? Or this has all been percolating beneath the surface, and now it's finally bubbling up? Whatever the answer, here are our highlights of Thailand [PART 1].
Meeting up with friends living in Thailand
Of all our experiences travelling the world, by far the most memorable are the ones where local friends show us a slice of their life. This is one of the invaluable pieces of travel advice I could give anyone: go through your mental list of friends, and see if you can think of anyone living in the town you’re visiting. Don’t hesitate to write them up and say you’re coming through, as they will likely be happy to see a familiar face, and will jump at the opportunity to show you their side of the world.
We had the luck to meet up with two people living in Thailand. An uncle of a Guayaki friend lives in Bangkok, and he and his lovely wife took us out to a delicious Thai feast. They also nourished us with valuable advice for traveling Thailand and recommendations for places to visit (thanks Olivia and Tim and Aoy!).
We were also hosted by an Oregon connection who lives in Ao Nang, Southern Thailand. Chris was the greatest tourist guide imaginable, and treated us as family even though I had only met him once before in Medford.
Among many other things, he took us to dinner at a Thai friend’s house, drove us for hours on the back of scooters to a tranquil emerald pool national park, and organized a rock climbing expedition one morning to huge cliffs overlooking the jungle. A week in Southern Thailand flew by and we felt right at home in this beach town.
Walking the night markets
If I had to guess, I’d say that every decent-sized town in Thailand has a bustling night market. When the sun goes down, the streets fill with food and handicraft vendors, and there is a general attitude of merriment and relaxation. People are ambling about and milling around, and happiness fills the air -- another hot day is done, and now is the time to enjoy the cool evening. There is every type of food imaginable available for non-vegans, from pad thai to grilled jellyfish, tom khao soup to silkworms, miniature pancakes to alligator. There are usually at least a few much healthier options for vegans, be it fresh fruit or a specialty veg stand.
If you aren’t careful, you’ll leave with a really full stomach, as these night markets are a sensory overload and something new and tasty is always waiting around the corner. There is also usually some form of live music to add joviality to the air. These night markets are one of those beautiful democratizing times of travel, when foreigners mingle with locals, and everyone is together as community and just enjoying the attractions of the evening.
Floating bungalows and cave explorations in Khao Sok
I’ve described this place to fellow travelers as a Thai Jurassic Park. One of the oldest jungles in the world (150 million years old), Khao Sok is a protected national park surrounding a huge man-made dam.
We took a longtail boat for an hour through this dam to get to our floating bungalow home for the evening. The entire trip was surreal, passing by enormous limestone cliffs on either side, topped by ancient jungles in glowing shades of green.
After arriving, our guide took us on a tour through the park, where we saw multiple kinds of monkeys, a pit viper, a tarantula, and a dozen different bird species. Then we went spelunking through a massive cave system, at points fully submerged in the river which flowed through it! After returning to the floating bungalows and enjoying a freshly prepared feast, we got to enjoy a totally still lake, watch the stars that looked like they were falling out of the sky, and bask in a silence that covered everything like a soft thick mosquito net.
Rock climbing in Ao Nang
Have to give another shoutout to Chris for making this one happen! He has a very awesome Thai friend who is an accomplished rock climber and who also happens to enjoy taking people out climbing just for the fun of it -- she refuses to accept any money for her expertise.
So one morning Chris and yet another Thai friend picked us up on the back of their scooters, and we went to the local climbing wall. The couple of routes we fit in were perfect -- not too difficult, but hard enough to flex climbing muscles that we hadn’t used for a year. And plus, when you reach the top of the route, you get a view of the jungle spread out as far as the eye can see. This view, mixed with the endorphins surging through your body, make you simply grateful for life and for having met such welcoming and adventurous people. All I thought was: “LIFE IS GOOD!” when I reached the top.
Kayaking in Railay
Railay beach is one of those postcard-photo places in Thailand. More huge limestone cliffs, white sand beaches, coconut trees, and strange-looking islands dotting the horizon.
We rented a kayak for an afternoon and explored the nooks and crannies of these islands, discovering their hidden beaches and caves. Although it was hot and salty, this was another one of those surreal moments where the beauty of it all shoots your perspective back, and you can’t help but laughing, marveling at the places where life takes you.