BANGKOK

After a 10-hour layover in Istanbul, we boarded our 10.5-hour flight to Bangkok just before 1AM. We were both anticipating such a long flight, but after one drink and some time to unwind, it was as if a week’s worth of early mornings had caught up with us all at once. We blinked our eyes and woke up 8 hours later! Our flight was practically over and we didn’t even have time to watch a movie. We landed at about noon and hired a tuk-tuk to take us to our pre-arranged Airbnb apartment.

We both had a bit of anxiety about the Southeast Asia part of our world trip. Culturally, and geographically, it’s unlike anywhere we’ve been so far, but as soon as we walked out the door of our high-rise apartment our concerns turned to excitement. The hustle and bustle is similar to New York City, something we’ve missed a bit, but overall there is a sense of chaos that we have never experienced. The first few things we realized about Bangkok were that they aren’t kidding about the prostitutes, road laws are non existent, and New York City smells like a field of flowers in comparison. We saw people cooking animals you’ve never even seen before, and if you sit at an intersection long enough, you will see an accident for sure, probably involving 30 or more scooters. The lack of rules, or at least the enforcement of them, is a common theme across all of SE Asia. After 3 nights we finished up Bangkok at the famous Chatuchak Market, which was too much to handle on a regular Saturday, never mind one where you have a flight at 5PM. We did our best to scavenge the aisles of super cheap shirts, boots, and army navy gear, but could only get through about 1%. We left in a hurry, torn, but feeling fortunate that we had seen any of this legendary market.

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CHIANG MAI/CHIANG RAI

From Bangkok, we decided the most practical route would be to go north and then make our way into Laos. Our first stop was Chiang Mai, which we had heard a lot about. Chiang Mai is the perfect combination of small city and countryside. With beautiful mountains surrounding the city, there is plenty to do. We spent our first few days wandering the streets of the Old City where we indulged in the local food and markets. We went to a Thai boxing match, which although seemingly staged at times, was still an interesting experience. We even convinced each other to try out our first Thai massages given by local ex-convicts. We had read about a local center that helps provide employment for women reentering the work force after incarceration, and we felt this might be a good way to support their efforts at a second chance. This turned out to be a little more painful than pleasurable for both of us as we hadn’t expected to be folded in half and stretched upside down, but for $5/hour who can complain? Regardless, we left cracking up at ourselves and feeling extremely un-flexible!

Our most memorable experience in Chiang Mai was our day with the elephants. We had been referred to an excellent place called Patara Elephant Farm by some fellow travelers, and although a little pricier than some of the other options in town, we were not let down. Patara rescues abandoned and retired working elephants from harm and brings them to an amazing rehabilitation center in the jungle where they are treated so well it’s hard not to want to live there with them. We became “Mahouts” for the day, which meant learning how to test their happiness by wagging tails and flapping ears, their health by how much they consume per day, their hydration by examining their poop (Stefaan did this), and their perspiration. Did you know that elephants sweat from their toes!? We were assigned to our elephant for the day, Mae Mai and her baby! We learned how to feed them bananas and greenery (which they eat 100% of the time) and how to ride them to the waterfall for bath time! By the end of the day we were so in love with our Mae Mai and baby that it was hard to say goodbye. After an epic day learning how to take care of elephants, playing with mischievous babies with all kinds of personalities and getting covered in all kinds of elephant sludge we were ready for bath time ourselves. We will never forget that experience.

Chiang Rai was our next stop en route to Laos. We hadn’t planned on staying here very long, and we’re still not sure why we ended up staying for 6 days as we felt the entire city left much to be desired. But, we made the best of it and treated ourselves to a nicer than normal hotel room and spent our time relaxing after a lot of travel and searching for the local eateries. We explored the white temple on the way into the city and took a motorbike trip north to the botanical gardens. The rest of the time was spent planning our entry into Laos by bus and slow boat and after a relaxing few days in a clean king size bed, we were ready to move on to our next adventure! See our Laos post to follow our adventure across the Mekong River.

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KO PHANGAN/KOH LANTA

After adventuring in Northern Laos and Cambodia, we felt so exhausted from constantly being on the move that we mutually decided our next stop had to be the Thai Islands. We chose to go to Koh Phangan first where we found great cheap bungalows at Longtail Beach Resort. We loved it so much there that our 5 day reservation turned into 3 weeks except for a quick visa renewal that took us to Malaysia and back! We spent our days devouring books, lounging on the beach drinking mango lassis and Singhas. Not to mention stuffing our faces with amazing food at the restaurant. With such a small beach community in the area we quickly met the locals, many stray dogs, and other travelers. Although there were many people coming and going during our time there, we made a solid group of friends that we continued to travel with during our time in Thailand. We had planned to go to Koh Tao and Railei Beach, but with our friends Tre and Katie coming to meet us we were too excited to make other plans. We decided that we should stay put and allow them to experience Longtail too. When they arrived we were so ecstatic to see them we basically tackled them to the ground. It had been 6 months since we had seen any of our friends from home and this was just the beginning. And we had 4 more friends coming to meet us in Bali later that month! We spent a few days on Koh Phangan with Tre and Katie catching up and adventuring until we were off to Koh Lanta to reunite the entire crew we had met at Longtail!

Although a flight to Koh Lanta would have been the easiest mode of transportation, we all agreed that spending the day traveling overland would be easy enough and save us all some money. Traveling overland in Southeast Asia is an extremely cheap, but you never really know what you’re going to get. In this case the travel agency was very helpful in arranging for us to take a taxi to a ferry to the mainland, and from there a bus ride to Koh Lanta. Sounds easy enough right? The next morning (the day of our departure) we woke up at 5am to an unexpected monsoon rainstorm. Since there is only one dirt road across the island that’s difficult to navigate in broad daylight when it’s dry, the taxi services were limited to 4×4 pick up trucks to get passengers to the ferry. Although we were under the impression that our taxi would be just for the 4 of us, to our surprise there was an entire family of 4 already packed in with their luggage when the taxi finally arrived. With no room in the cab for our gear and the rain falling much harder at this point, we were forced to throw all of our luggage in the bed of the truck with only a small hole-filled tarp to cover it. Our things were soaked to say the least. We dried out a bit on the ferry and as the sun came up things started to look better for the remainder of our travel day. On the mainland we were hustled onto a double decker super bus and then transferred to two mini buses that were so packed with people and bags you couldn’t see the person next to you. As the mini bus dropped each passenger off at one terrible resort after another, we began to worry that Koh Lanta might not be what we thought. Luckily we had booked a place in the Old Town on Airbnb and when we arrived at our house on stilts over the water in time for sunset, we knew we had made the right choice. It was EPIC. Over the next few days we reunited with our friends from Koh Phangan, explored the island on motorbikes and partied on the beach for Sarah’s birthday. Our time in Thailand was a beautiful introduction to SE Asia and we can’t wait to go back.

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WE RECOMMEND

Join the discussion 4 Comments

  • Barrett says:

    Just recently stumbled across your blog through Outside Magazine and am slowly devouring your stories and adventures. Your Thailand itinerary covers the exact same locations my wife and I traveled about 20 months ago that completely changed my life and how I think about travel. My wife is a blogger herself, and we’ve both admitted that it would be a dream come true to take her stories on the road like you are doing. Y’all are awesome and I just wanted to drop you a line and express my support!
    Cheers,
    Barrett

    • Barrett, thanks so much for reaching out. We can’t tell you how nice it is to receive support, especially from people who have travelled as we have! We wish you the best and think that you should absolutely take your stories on the road!
      Thanks again,
      Stefaan + Sarah

  • Hey , i don’t even know how to start off with what to say. I’m a 15 year old girl living in Texas and i have this big mind for travel. i could go on about all the places i want to see before my time ends. I’ve come across your page when i was going through my Vsco. That is how i found you guys. Let me just start off with how amazing i think you guys are for getting the chance to see sights most people never get to see. I feel like you guys have been blessed to take this beautiful life changing expierence. I know that it may not have all been easy to get up and go and i’m pretty sure you guys had some stuggling days but like i’ve read, you guys over came those situations and were left with amazing memories and pictures. I know i’m young but i’ve always dreamed of traveling most of the world to see gods creations and all the majestic wonders that the world has to offer. So far i’ve only been to half the states of the U.S. and Costa Rica. I’ve posted pictures in my Vsco (GenMorales.Vsco.Co) , they are not as adventures as yours but there something (: I know i still have much more to go, but i just wanted to say that all your pictures have some what inspired me. I don’t mean to sound corny or anything but you guys sharing your moments is the best thing i could have ever come across. Letting someone else take in your memories. My point is that you guys have a great stories so far and i’m pretty sure you still have more tomorrows ahead of you guys.

    • Hi Genesis, Thank you so much for the kind words! It means so much to us that we can inspire others with our work and we are beyond grateful for the support. Sounds like you have a great passion for travel, like us! Follow your dreams, you have so much to look forward to!
      Cheers,
      Sarah + Stefaan

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