Thailand – Hua Hin, Phuket, Krabi, and Back to Bangkok

Let’s get back to our regularly scheduled programming: Happy-go-lucky posts recapping the Thailand adventure.

We hit the road again on Day 5, post Bangkok, leaving from Hua Hin toward Phuket. The 8 hours ahead of us were daunting, but we were committed to enjoying the journey, so we stopped off at an interesting-looking bay.

All the signs on the roads in Thailand indicate, pictorially, what the attractions in the area are: a waterfall, a bay, a beach, whatever. The country is also dripping with pictures of the king and queen; revered highly within the culture. Apparently, you’re not supposed to disrespect any imagery of the king (unsurprising), but that didn’t stop Brandon and me from questioning his true age in the privacy of the car.

“That picture looks like it was taken in the ‘60s, and he looks about 45 there,” Brandon said. “How old, really, is this guy? Is he even alive?”

The king pointed us toward the bay and we were greeted by a man with a semi-automatic rifle. Despite what you may think, he hadn’t been wire-tapping our car: it was our first exposure to the serious measures the army is taking to stop human trafficking from Myanmar. If you’ve noticed in the news, Muslims are being forced out of Myanmar, often by execution, and are thus taking their chances sneaking over into Thailand. (A hotbed for this activity is, apparently, in Phuket – every time we passed through, we were racially profiled from the car and waved on while they looked for more, I guess, suspicious-looking people.)

Our military friend watched us closely as we walked along the beach to see the boats. His hand resting on his gun, we noticed he was protecting some sort of local military base – and thank God, because we’d been considering some sort of debauchery.

We booked it pretty quickly away from the bay, but driving out of town, I saw something unusual.

Something moving in a fountain.

Something… slightly human.





Anyone who’s met me knows that monkeys are one of my greatest passions in life; seeing them was my only goal in Costa Rica, and not disparate from the reasons Thailand appealed to me.

There were hundreds of monkeys jumping into and out of the monkey-statue fountain. Hundreds. Playing with each other, collecting fruit, stealing my chips, bathing, chirping, jumping, running, and capturing my heart. My soul leapt with so much joy when we pulled over to the fountain, I could barely contain it. Their tiny monkey hands grazed mine as I passed out bananas, the tiny monkey babies clung to their mothers as the moms jumped around. It was truly magical, even when I got too close and they threatened to attack me. It was still my favorite moment of the trip. They know I forgive them and can hear their spirits whispering to me even from America.


We made one more stop in the town before heading back out: another local beach, this one sans rifle men. Brandon caught a great video of me bounding out to the water, like something out of a music video – and as he pans back, a glimpse of reality strikes when you notice me crouched from a tumble into 1-ft-deep wet sand.

Down to Phuket, we were greeted by endless rain. The Renaissance treated us like royalty from the moment we checked in to the moment we left, no doubt from a tip from one of my amazing client friends: an incredibly generous upgrade to a villa with a private pool, free breakfast and massages, F&B discounts, fruit in our rooms. Everyone knew our names and asked us the whole trip how we were doing and whether we’d enjoyed the earlier parts of the day. At night, they had a free happy hour showcasing local flavors, and the pool had a simply gorgeous view of sunset over the beach. We felt like the luckiest people alive, even in spite of the weather.



Thai massages are interesting – we had a few while we were in the country (I opted for the aromatherapy, gentler version at the Renaissance). If you haven’t had a Thai massage, it’s not your standard, easygoing approach that we’re used to in the States. It’s a full-on bodily contortion and light beating, generally delivered by some of the strongest and tiniest women I’ve ever seen. The full gamut (unless, I suppose, you frequent the parlors with the women in short skirts outside) concludes with being punched multiple times in the spine and neck. Not altogether painful per se, but, maybe, disconcerting. I think I’ll stick to yoga to stretch out.

While we were in the South of the country, we hit up Phuket town (RAYA is a GREAT restaurant – had the best crab curry ever there) and Krabi. The weather didn’t work with us super well, but we made the best of it and had some delicious seafood Tom Yum Soup at a hole-in-the-wall in Krabi. The clouds began to part on our way out of town, so we hit up a local beach and ended up getting there at just the right time to walk across a sand bar in the middle of the ocean out to an island – achievable only during low tide. We couldn’t resist a few pictures there, particularly when we discovered a heart-shaped edifice nearby (which Brandon romantically called Butt Rock).


We decided to leave Phuket a day early not because it wasn’t amazing, but because the weather just wasn’t happening for a beach trip, so Brandon packed up his new flip-flops, scratched his thousand mosquito bites, and jumped back in the car with me. Back to Hua Hin, then Bangkok the following day!

I’ll spare you the details of our return trip to Bangkok, involving a 5 hour plight to return the rental car and an angry husband who discovered I’d routed us into the middle of Bangkok instead of the airport. But suffice it to say that we got back to the Chatrium and made it full circle in our trip… including one more stop by the ol’ pad Thai place. (I opted for no shrimp this time.)

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We wrapped our stay with a stroll through Patpong Market and an interesting Ping Pong show that reminded me of a cross between the Clermont Lounge and a hardcore porn video. Don’t Google it. Perhaps it was an appropriate end to our time in the land of fifty shades of grey (pardon the lame joke)… a display of vulgarity to jolt us out of the spiritual world and back to Earth.

And now, I sit back on the way to Seoul, and continue to repeat the mantra of counting blessings. I can’t wait to see our herd of animals again tomorrow – even if none of them are monkeys.


Closing Time

This trip is drawing to a close, the curtains tightly choking out the Thailand light as I return, headfirst, into reality.

Phuket and Krabi were incredible; Hua Hin may be one of our favorite places we’ve ever been. But this post isn’t about them. This one is about me.

I’ve always aged too quickly, racing through life as though the finish line is something anyone really wants to reach. I think, perhaps, morbidly, I busy myself to escape my own mortality. After all, the purpose of life is finding a purpose… right?

What Thailand has taught me is that you can travel, but your troubles travel with you. They are on your playlist, in your head, within your heart. Escape won’t fix broken, and travel may expand your horizons but it will never change the color of your sky.

Although it’s sure been a nice distraction.

You can outrun the grim reaper, but he will catch up eventually. Numb his influence with pills, pretend he isn’t there, act content with a salvation that may or may not be waiting. But we all, if we are lucky, grow old.

We all long for the earlier days of youth, whatever that is for each of us, when we were buoyant and naive and resilient. And this, folks, is how I arrived at my mid-life crisis at 28. I’ve always done things early.

I return to the poem I wrote at 19, ever aware of the problems I tote with me in my rush to grow up. I am nearly a decade older but the words are as true now as then. And as I wave goodbye to continent #4, the 15th bucket list item, and the country I’ve fallen in love with, allow me to wax poetic just once more. Then I promise I’ll get back to the usual tenor.

“I’m racing past while they remain still
Such is the curse of aging at will.
Clinging to branches, I’m soaring with leaves
Faster I go as they float in the breeze.

Sometimes I wonder what happened to me
I give the right sermon but forget what it means.
Wealth’s no obsession, and love I have found
But cursed is the life that forever gains ground.”


Let’s Not Talk About Anything Else But Food

Perhaps this blog title is funny only to me; it’s a play on a Broadway song. Whatever! Also – pics to come.

It’s probably high time we took a solid step back to discuss the incredible and diverse cuisine of Thailand. You’ve all (e.g. no one has) been reading of the various adventures tooling around the country, but I have yet to really divulge the unique experience that the culinary tour has been.

It began the night we arrived; midnight pad Thai from a stand near the hotel in Bangkok. The best we have ever eaten; capped off with a questionable shrimp that we will let slide. In plastic chairs, surrounded by stray dogs, served by a woman who spoke no English and made the dish from a wok and a flame steps away from us, it was heavenly. And only $3 for two dishes, including a Coke and a beer.

Welcome to Thailand.

The tour continued near a pier the next morning; handmade roti filled with egg and banana – again, cooked to order, from a street vendor. The hygiene around here is debatable at best – limited hand washing, rinsed dishes, meat sitting out – but the freshness and love in the food is second to none.

For lunch, we dined in Chinatown: fresh bubble tea for $1, bird’s nest soup (kind of a horrible thing, I was later aware, but nonetheless tasty), squid with chili sauce, and crab vermicelli. The seafood here, when prepared fresh, is out of this world. Total price for the meals: $7.

In the evening, we went to a spot recommended by a cab driver and were horrified to discover… Other white people. We had been sent where tourists go to die. Although the curry was decent and the beer was cold, it wasn’t the best we’d eaten, and we hated feeling like Class B tourists. So we went local for a drink.

An outdoor night spot made us wish we had ordered whatever all the locals were grilling up themselves at the tables. Thai Hedwig crooned us over Chang beers.

We had only begun to discover the rich flavors of Indian, Middle eastern, Chinese, and Russian influences that clearly pepper Thailand. Crab curries galore, fresh seafood, luscious fruits and vegetables, indulgent noodle dishes, Vietnamese style soups, custard pastries, and dim sum-style buns.

Throughout the road trip from Bangkok to Phuket, we dined on shredded pork with onions and cilantro (Brandon ate mine) prepared fresh outside a gas station, pork and custard buns, grilled sausage, grilled bananas, and milk tea. Nothing was more than $2, and everything was cooked to order.

The food in Phuket is nothing to sniff at, either: two glorious crab curries, one red (at the Renaissance) and one yellow (at Raya, a local recommended place) made a very happy girl. Coupled with the stunning shrimp, watermelon, and feta salad I had at the hotel, it was clear that freshness isn’t just a delicacy here – it’s a way of life for Thais.

Having only had americanized Thai food previously, it was easy to make the assumption that it could be fairly one note – and generally quite spicy. Although we have had our fair share of spice here, I am awed by the diversity in the flavors and the true harmony of cultures represented in the cuisine. I could eat this food forever. Time to move?


Counting Blessings

This vacation was exactly what I needed to get my head a little straighter. Today, Brandon and I awoke naturally at dawn, strolled down to the stunning infinity pool overlooking Bangkok and the river, and ate at an incredible buffet full of all kinds of food (Thai, Indian, American, and everything in between). Despite myself, I’ve been smugly smiling at the thought of my xenophobe friend, amused at how much beauty he must be missing.

After a relaxing morning, we headed out to pick up the rental car at the airport, and Brandon masterfully handled the shift to left-side driving. (Oh, yeah – I forgot to look that up before we came here.) We stopped at a few points on the road to Hua Hin, our stop in between Bangkok and Phuket, and made some pretty rad decisions (if I say so myself).

First up was a quick lunch at a roadside stand (we’ll make steel of our stomachs yet), then a stroll through SWISS SHEEP FARM. Yes, that’s right. Whatever you’re picturing, intensify it. It was a moderately functioning sheep farm amusement park, complete with life-sized statues of Swiss people and rednecks, Christmas trees (because, as Brandon later said, Thais’ perception of Christianity must be that they “celebrate Christmas all year, or at least at some point, and they like decorating trees”), Spiderman, robots, and a literal room full of alpacas. Real alpacas. That basically molest you upon entry.

But who am I to do this place real literary justice, when they’ve done it for themselves? Just look at their website’s description:

The complex nature. Come in contact with the atmosphere of a farm in a valley surrounded by the love that surrounds you with warmth, style European country. Farms that will take you time to dream again.
Join today to add power to your fatigue. Add fresh restore your love for us.

Oh, and the icing on the cake? Brandon and I were apparently part of the attraction. As the token random white people, we were photographed… several times.

We hit the road again and, after some consternation, found an elephant sanctuary that hosted rides and experiences with the elephants. Although a nearby safari offered similar services plus experiences with real, live tigers and lions, we heard through the grapevine–and TripAdvisor–that the treatment of the animals there is not humane, and the felines are likely drugged. As much as Brandon would have loved to have a picture of him with a tiger for his Tinder profile (this is a real trend), we passed in favor of the humane place. It was kind of an out-of-body sort of experience – high above the ground, riding an elephant. A freaking elephant! We fed it bananas and it played a harmonica for us. What. The. Heck. It was amazing and surreal.

We ended up staying at the Intercontinental in Hua Hin – a stunningly gorgeous resort with, yes, another infinity pool, this time overlooking a gorgeous beach. As I watched the fluffy pink clouds fade into the night sky tonight while floating in the most breathtaking pool I’ve ever seen, I realized how truly lucky we both are. We’re in Thailand, healthy and blessed, with an expansive love and a deep happiness together. And I’m in the fourth infinity pool in less than a month (San Antonio, St. Thomas, Bangkok, Hua Hin). What the hell do I have to be sad about? Life is good.


Bangkok – Days 1-3

There’s nothing like a trip halfway around the world to remind you how truly fortunate you are.

These last few days have been a whirlwind of jet lag-induced euphoria, and although they’ve not forced me to forget all my troubles, they’ve helped put them into perspective.

The first few days are difficult to categorize because, somewhere over the Pacific, we lost 13 hours. It’s currently 6am on Sunday here, and 7pm on Saturday in Georgia. My mind is still having trouble wrapping around the concept of fluid time; it feels very Stephen Hawking at the moment.

The flight to LAX was 5 hours; an overnight stop and an obligatory (re: I forced Brandon) stop by one of our properties, and we were back on our way to Seoul on another 13 hour flight. Follow that up with a 6 hour flight into Bangkok and we were feeling a little rough. However, the seemingly endless flights somehow put us on Bangkok time – we got in at midnight on Thursday and immediately slept through the night.

Bangkok is a flurry of beautiful activity, a breathtaking hybrid of deep spirituality and welcoming tolerance. I’ve never been part of a culture in which both religion and sex seem to be so pervasive in the everyday, treated as important elements of the human experience. Even the temples here include statues depicting sexual acts along with every other facet of human nature: parenthood, worship, joy, etc. I actually really vibe with that portrayal of humanity; how refreshing to see a religion that doesn’t pin shame on something so inherently natural. It was a gentle reminder of Christianity’s pervasive stigmas that have seeped into Western culture.

Speaking of stigmas, the night before I left for Bangkok, I mentioned to an acquaintance what my plans were for travel. Admittedly in no state to be having a coherent conversation, the man launched into a torrent of some of the most xenophobic vitriol I’ve ever heard. I was shocked. I didn’t even realize people – beyond, perhaps, some rednecks in the boonies somewhere – still possessed a blind hatred toward any culture other than their own. This was an educated and successful person essentially telling me that any idiot who chose to travel outside of America wasn’t just stupid, but unpatriotic, rendered me literally speechless. I guess I’ve been working for a client so incredibly welcoming of literally everyone for so long that it’s easy to forget that tolerance, for some, is a learned behavior.

In any case, this is not the norm in Thailand. Ever the balance of Madonna and whore, this country seems to house some of the world’s friendliest people; however, our American accents and wide-eyed naivette make is targets for conning as well. There seems to be this understood cultural message that everyone likes Americans, but we also must be milked for every Baht we have. The con game is such standard practice that we learned quickly to stop listening to anyone’s advice – everyone seems to have a connection somewhere in the city to a commission structure, to a Tuk Tuk driver who will take you wherever he’ll make the most money, to a restaurant you didn’t ask to go but “is the place you must try.” It’s like they are leveraging the clear language barrier to feign misunderstanding and drive up the price.

But that’s the seedy part of the practice. Oddly enough, there’s something I find highly endearing about the approach they take here; this obvious manipulation of Americans because they either think we are stupid or easily led (or both). We were accosted, for example, by a man outside a school, who claimed he was a retired teacher and simply loved American people. He offered to pay for our cabs, take us to dinner, introduce us to his friends. He spoke broken but communicable English and Brandon was highly suspicious of his motivations. But he was hilarious.

“You talk, I like you. I like Americans. You talk even though you are a girl. Girls here don’t talk. Why does your husband not talk? I don’t know if I like him. He is slow.”

Sure, he took us to a tailor to get custom made clothes, against which he likely made a tidy profit. Sure, he thought he conned us dumb Americans into spending money we didn’t anticipate. But I was just as happy because custom clothes were a “must” on my list for the trip – so the con man played right into my own game as well. Thanks for showing us where to find a good tailor, and the free cab ride there.

Sexism also seems to be a thing here, but again, in kind of an oddly endearing way. The theme of this country seems to be that it lives in shades of grey; where I live in this black and white universe where things are decidedly right and wrong, Thailand lives somewhere in the middle.

Women are treated with respect, bowed to. Everyone is extremely polite and gracious. But at the same time, there are rules at the temples (we visited Wat Pho and Wat Arun; stunning and breathtaking – thanks to Aisling for the recommendation) in which women must be covered. We also must never touch a monk, even brush his robe accidentally, lest he need to perform a long cleansing ritual afterward. Brandon enjoyed reading this.

“It’s okay, hon. It’s just that you’re disgusting. Don’t take it personally. You’re just a revolting, disgusting girl.”

I am not welcome to pay, or to lead. I get the side eye when I hand over a credit card with Brandon right beside me. This is so far against my nature I’d normally find it insulting, but for some reason, I don’t here. It’s another shade of grey.

Similarly, the embracing of blurred gender lines is completely refreshing. Wandering, we went to an outdoor restaurant with what I like to call the Thai Hedwig, complete with her own Yitzhak, performing on a makeshift stage. She was wearing a leopard print dress and ’90s Blossom-style hat, playing a broom (yes, you read that right). I couldn’t understand what she was saying but she was clearly fucking with the crowd. I got called out for taking pictures. She was fabulous, but looking around at all the locals’ reactions… she was merely status quo. In fact, behind me, a young man was cozied up to his male partner, showing his friend across the table pictures of his experience dressing as a LadyBoy as though he was sharing details from his last trip to the grocery store. There is nothing unusual or taboo about people being who they are here, and it’s startling. A culture so deeply rooted in religion is also deeply connected to its own humanity. Hey, come to think of it – I’m kind of digging Buddhism.

This blog post is getting long, but it wouldn’t be complete without a mention of the food. It’s been a bit of a mixed bag – there are most DEFINITELY no health codes around here; meat sitting out in the hot sun, loosely-rinsed utensils, flies, dogs roaming around. However, I’ve never been one to turn down a good piece of cheese that fell on the floor, so I’ve gotten past it and haven’t managed to get sick yet. And what we’ve had, ultimately, has been delicious. And cheap – $2.50-$5.00 for a meal; the most we’ve paid yet is $15.00 for dinner for the two of us, including beer. So again… welcome to the grey area.

Today, we leave Bangkok and hit the road toward Phuket. Can’t wait to try more of Aisling’s recommendations and hopefully also see some monkeys and elephants. We are truly a lucky pair of people, and we both needed this time away. There’s nothing like seeing the world through someone else’s eyes to make you realize how small you truly are in this universe. And that, Mr. Xenophobe, is why I love to travel.