Sunday, February 9, 2014

Thailand: Land of 1000 Smiles and Tuk-tuks

I know I've been M.I.A. lately, but I've just recently gotten back to Korea from a wonderful two-week vacation around Thailand and Cambodia (but more on Cambodia in a different post).  It was really nice to have a break from teaching, school, and Korea for a little bit.  My friend and travel-partner Lauren and I left on January 18 and made our way to Thailand, where we spent the next 8 days.  We left from the Seoul/Incheon airport, had a layover in Shanghai, China, and finally landed in Phuket, Thailand around 2:30am.  (Side note: Phuket is pronounced "Poo-ket", NOT "Fuck-it" like some people may read it)  During our stay in Thailand, we visited Phuket and Krabi (coastal cities), various islands including Koh Phi Phi, and then spent the last couple days in Bangkok.

We booked almost no accommodation in advance and just found places to stay as we went along, and it worked great that way.  Some places we stayed were as cheap as $10/night, and they were very decent too.  Overall Thailand was pretty cheap, and you could barter prices with people.  Our very first day, we ate at a traditional Thai buffett for $2!

                                     Where is Thailand exactly?  It's a part of Southeast Asia.

       I started in the southern city of Phuket, traveled to Koh Phi Phi Island, Krabi, and then made it up north to Bangkok.

I could go on-and-on about how wonderful Thailand was, but I'll just make bullet points of some interesting things we came across during our trip.
  • As a whole, Asian people have been the nicest people I've ever met.  They are extremely friendly and will offer to help you with most anything, even if you don't ask for it.  Thai people took friendliness to new heights.  They are hands-down the nicest strangers I've ever come across.  During one part of our trip, Lauren and I were trying to catch a taxi to a particular place and we stopped and asked a family who owned a street-food stand for help.  They not only called us a taxi, but fed us free water and snacks while we waited.  
  • We quickly learned that in southern Thailand there are no designated taxis.  Typically, taxis are easy to spot because the cars have a big, flashing "TAXI" sign on the top of the car.  In southern Thailand, this is not the case.  Anyone who spoke English was a taxi, and the best way to catch one was to ask someone at a local business for a taxi and they would immediately call their "friend" who would conveniently come pick us up.  So basically you get in the car with a random person who happens to speak some level of English and hope they take you to where you want to go.  Dangerous? Maybe...but what else do you do??  You can't walk everywhere..
    • We also hitched a couple rides on motorbikes, which are probably the most common form of transportation in Thailand, along with tuk-tuks
  • Thailand isn't a rich country, but it's not third world either.  Tourism is booming there. 
  • Schools were really fancy-looking.  They were surrounded by gates and had very cool architecture and statues/gardens in the yards.
  • The Thai Royal family is EVERYTHING.  People say that tourists can usually get away with a lot in Thailand, but if you should NOT speak one bad word about the royal family.  Every business has a portrait hanging up of the king and queen.
  • Saw various islands, but the most well-known were James Bond Island (the movie "The Man with the Golden Gun" was filmed here), Rai Leh, and Koh Phi Phi Island.
  • The LadyBoys: Thailand has many drag shows in which ladyboys perform.  A ladyboy is the Thai name for men who dress up and perform as women.  Lauren and I saw a ladyboy cabaret show in Phuket and if I hadn't of known better, I seriously would've thought they were legit women.  Some even performed in bikinis, and they looked damn good in them too.  The only bad part was after the show you could get your picture with them, but then they hounded you for tips (in their deep voices).
  • We did soooo many animal-related things! 
    • We went to a fish spa, where you put your feet in a tank of water and the fish eat the dead-skin off of them.  Yummy!
    • We rode elephants and then fed them pineapple!  Their trunks are stronger than they look.  We also saw a random elephant walking around the street with its owner one night.
    • We held pythons around our necks at a marketplace. 
    • We petted and walked tigers at a tiger temple which was run by monks.
    • We got up close and personal with wild monkeys on an island.  
  • Thai food was delicious, and cheap, fresh fruit was everywhere.  The best snack was Mango Sticky Rice: slices of mango, rice, and coconut milk!
  • We went to a floating marketplace, where most all vendors sit in canoe-like boats advertising and selling food, homemade goods, or souvenirs---all on a tiny river!
  • Markets are everywhere and you can find some random things.  We saw a sign advertising things like prescription drugs (Valium, Viagra, etc.) and forged diplomas/licenses (all illegally of course, but out in the open for people to buy!)
  • We took a canoe ride with our own private canoe driver.  He took us through caves and at some points we had to lay down in the boat to get through the entrances.

On Phi Phi Island....the bluest waters I've ever seen.

Introducing The Ladyboys...yes, they're men!

Riding elephants!  Her name is Kahmoon.

Boating tour of islands.

Fish Spa getting our dead-skin cells eaten off.

Floating market

Tiger Temple

James Bond Island

Floating Village

Canoe ride...Watch you head!!

Simply put, Thailand was AMAZING!!  I hope I can go back one day.

Stay-tuned for my blog about the Thailand Ping Pong Show which was so inappropriately shocking and hilarious that it warrants its own post.  Trust me, you'll want to read it!

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