Greetings, loved ones. Buckle up for what I think is the most amazing weekend of my semester so far, and possibly one of the best days of my life thrown in there. Casual.
This weekend we ventured out to Thailand – a country I’ve dreamed about visiting for years now. We went to Phuket, a fairly touristy and gorgeous part of Thailand. On our way to the airport (a long, hour-lasting journey on the MRT) we met a lovely lady – Dory from Tuscon. She introduced herself to us by asking where the airport was, and basically tagging along and following us there. She ended up telling us all about her travels and asking us about ours in return. I hope I can continue fulfilling my travel bug dreams throughout my life. I’ll probably end up just like her – she was so overly excited when she started telling us about her adventures. Safe travels, Dory from Tuscon!
Once we landed in Phuket, we took a taxi to our airbnb apartment. The streets reminded me a lot of Bali, but a bit cleaner. By the time we reached the building, it was dark and pretty late, and we had some trouble getting in. We had to call the guy to come bring us to the right room, and he drove us around a long back way that kind of freaked me out. But we made it, and the place was absolutely fantastic! We had the penthouse apartment, complete with a balcony with a hot tub and fabulous beach view.
We are really living in luxury over here. I’d say that’s only fair, considering our residence in Singapore (aka Hwa Chong International Boarding School) is the worst place I’ve ever had the displeasure of living in. 🙂
Our first full day (Friday) was filled with ups and downs. Literally. We were in a boat, going through very choppy waters. We woke up early for our island hopping tour, which was pretty much the full day and included lunch! It was a little rainy and downcast throughout the day, but the islands were absolutely beautiful.
Breathtaking, right??! One of my favorite parts was getting to see Monkey bay, where we got to watch from the boat as monkey catapulted themselves into the water and played around. Notice I said we got to watch from the boat! You may have picked up on the fact that I low-key hate monkeys. Apparently the long tailed ones are evil, our tour guide even said so. See my post on Bali and the Monkey Forest for more information! More on monkey encounters later.
We also got to see the famous Malay Bay on Phi Phi island, which is the classic beach bay in Thailand. It was absolutely gorgeous! Not to mention my photo there became my highest-liked photo on Instagram. Thank you, photographer Katie.
The way back was an adventure to say the least. We had an hour boat ride from Phi Phi island back to Phuket. Unfortunately, this hour consisted of a slight monsoon. For the first few minutes, I was hysterically laughing – we were getting pelted with rain, going on a super speedy speed boat, through extremely choppy waves. It felt like we were on a roller coaster combined with a very aggressive flume ride. Unfortunately, this funny feeling did not last. After about ten minutes, I realized I was basically being pummeled and beaten down by rain with no end in sight. Because when you’re on a boat there is really no escape. There were a couple moments when I looked to my right and my left, seeing Brad and then Katie, and wondered if we were gonna make it. I realized after awhile that my hands were gripping the seat to keep myself from flying around, and my fingers were pruning from the water. I looked around at all the other poor fellow passengers on this blustery ride, and saw a lot of misery. Couples holding on to each other for dear life, and a father cradling his little daughter covered in several rain jackets. But by God, we made it back. And we take with us our soaked selves and some pretty intense memories. I can already look back and laugh.
The very positive aftermath of that experience was what I can only describe as the most incredible shower I have ever taken. Between the monsoon incident and the fact that all of my previous showers have been a Hwa Chong drizzle, I was in heaven.
To round off our crazy first day, we got some delicious Thai food right across the street from our place! We stayed for several hours, and each ordered multiple dishes. Katie got a fabulous looking fried rice dish served in a pineapple! It was all delicious, and nice to reminisce on the day in the presence of hot food, friends, and shelter from the rain. Of course, I got my pad thai (sadly, not pictured here)! I got this wonderful noodle dish 4 different times on this trip, if I count correctly. Incredible.
Our second day was much less stormy. We saw some temples, did some shopping, and went to see the Big Buddah! We didn’t exactly have a plan for the day, but luckily when we asked the concierge for help, he said we could take a car to each place we wanted to go for a fixed price and that he could call the car for us. To our surprise, he walked around, pulled a van up to the lobby, donned a white tour guide jacket, and became our driver for the day! It led us to wonder if this is a first-come, first-served kind of situation, in which we are very lucky no one came around before us and whisked this guy away.
Our first stop was the cluster of temples in Amphoe Muang. These temples were absolutely beautiful, but I was scared out of my mind at one point when there was a sound like shots of gunfire ringing through the square. My heart was racing, until I realized no one else was panicked and people were looking at a smoking structure and clapping. Apparently it is customary for a man to periodically set of fireworks in this rounded structure every ten minutes, forming a display of sparks and smoke. Great.
Second stop, Big Buddah! This Buddah was huge, and I mean HUGE. Towering over the entire valley below. It was incredible to see. I was very grateful that they let me borrow a sarong and wrap to enter the temple. The views from the top of the mountain were just as breathtaking as the view of the Buddah itself.
And all four of us got to leave our mark by signing a tile and donating it to the reconstruction of the Big Buddah! Hopefully one day I can come back and search for it. We were also able to write a note in a visitor’s book, which I was delighted to see that they keep. There was a large stack of old books stored in a glass case, so our message can stay in the temple!
On our way down from the temple, we had yet another monkey encounter. After visiting the Monkey Forest (which I did enjoy) I’ve had enough of monkeys for a lifetime. But not everyone has seen these monkeys before, so on the steps down the mountain, tourists were stopping left and right to take picture of/with these monkeys that they thought were so incredibly cute. One monkey ripped a bag out of a girl’s hands and everyone started laughing; how adorable right? Meanwhile I just want to get as far away from them as possible and the stairway was blocked. We had to plow our way through. Made it out this time though!
Our night activity was the FantaSea show! It included some shops and displays outside, followed by a buffet dinner, and then the show!
Let me tell you, this place was odd. Very odd. It’s difficult to describe. There were strange representations of animals, peculiar music playing, and a mysterious animal cavern. Brad and I were sucked into this by a couple of the workers there, so we walked through what seemed to be a deserted pathway of empty display cases and themed rooms inside of a cave. We were pretty weirded out. At the end was a white tiger, but it was asleep and looked very sad. A white temple corridor is no environment for a tiger. Later we walked through this again with Zach and Katie and apparently all these animals came out of nowhere or we were just blind to them before. Eerie.
The buffet dinner was great! There were so many options, and it was all you can eat so I stuffed myself to the brim. As I tend to do. So once we were all properly packed with food, we headed over to the very extravagant front entrance gate. There were flames. There were torches. There were elephant sculptures. There was even a stone bridge. As we entered, they took our cell phones and any other recording devices a person could possibly possess. Therefore, I unfortunately don’t have any photos to show! They shoved our phones in a shoebox and threw it on a shelf for safe keeping. And then friends, we saw the show. It was wonderful. The most impressive part in my opinion was the trapeze act. These gymnasts were doing moves I could never even fathom, in perfect synchronization, right above the audience! There was a lot of history to be seen, and many live animals. One highlight of the show was when a herd of goats meandered across the stage. Another was when a chicken got separated from the pack and almost waddled into the audience. It was a very interesting show!
ALrighty. Now for Sunday, AKA possibly one of the best days if not THE best day of my life. WHO’S READY.
Okay, so this morning was an early start, as we got picked up at 7am for the ELEPHANT RETIREMENT PARK. I found this place online, and it had great reviews and what sounded like an incredible experience. I have loved elephants for my entire life, and when I was young my dream was to ride one. Little did I know at the time, that those elephants are horribly mistreated. I saw a video on Facebook one day about elephants in trekking and logging positions, and all of the torturous things people do to them to make them behave, and it brought me to tears. So from that moment on I decided I wanted to help. Save the elephants!
The morning started with meeting the smallest elephant, little Sophie. She loves to cuddle. She came up to me while I was on a bench and leaned right on my lap. She’s a year and a half old, and she was the most sociable because she was just wandering around all of us as we got ready!
I had read up on all of the elephants – their names, ages, and backstories – but it was great to get to talk to the people there who could give me more information. Bua is three and she loves giving kisses – she gave so many kisses! And Peter, the youngest, is a little mischievous and loves to play in the mud. We prepared their food (peeling bananas and cutting sugarcane) and then got to feed them! Lucy was exceptionally hungry. She’s Peter’s mom, and she’s still feeding, so she’s always wanting more food. There was a line of four of us at one point, each giving her several bananas before she tossed her collection from her trunk into her mouth.
Poor Nam Mon is pregnant and due any day, so she was very uncomfortable throughout the day. Did you know elephants can be pregnant for up to 22 months?? Sounds horrible. After feeding them, we went into the mud pit to play! Peter slipped into the pit and almost brought me with him. I learned that elephants can’t sweat, so the mud helps them cool off and protects them from mosquitoes. The guys who worked there were so fun; they started throwing mud at us and at the elephants to get us into it. It ended up being a lot of fun.
Finally, we got to wash them off in a large pond. we got buckets and brushers to get them really clean. One of the oldest elephants, Em, stayed next to me until she was scrubbed clean. She was also one of the biggest, so while I was careful to not get stepped on, I was absolutely in awe of her. She’s blind in one eye so we always had to be aware of if she could see us or not.
After they were all squeaky clean, us humans got to shower as well and then enjoy a delicious lunch buffet of, you guessed it, pad thai! During lunch we enjoyed a nice conversation with a couple of Australian ladies – they come to Thailand multiple times a year! One of them gave us a lot of tips on where we should go and what we should do if we ever come back. I hope I do!
These creatures are so magnificent and playful, and I feel so blessed that I got to share a beautiful morning with them. It gives me hope that more and more elephant sanctuaries are popping up, instead of the trekking sites. I hope I can do more in the future to help these beautiful animals.
After the elephant retirement park, we went to the Tiger Kingdom, where tigers are raised in captivity and familiar with humans. I was slightly terrified to do it but I thought it would be a cool experience. Plus I had the guys with me and I made them go first. Brad, Zach and I visited three tigers, my favorite of which was Kola. She was enjoying a nice nap and liked cuddles and belly rubs.
After this, as we had hours until our flight and no where else to go, we took a nice table at a beachside restaurant and spent the remainder of our time in Thailand eating, drinking, and watching the waves. I once again ordered pad thai. I wasn’t disappointed! It went nicely with my two pina coladas and two daqueries. It was a perfect way to round out our trip!
Thank you Thailand for an incredible weekend! I’ll be returning soon!