Last November, Brian and I took a long-awaited vacation to THAILAND.
Just after college, I worked on a cruise line that traveled throughout Southeast Asian, Australia and New Zealand. One of my favorite spots was Ko Samui and Thailand, I knew I needed to bring Brian to this part of the world some day.
We ended up flying into Bangkok and staying there for a day, then flying to Chiang Mai and exploring that city a few days, and we ended our trip on the pretty remote island of Ko Kut.
When we travel, many of you ask for details about where we stay, what we see, etc…so I thought I would share it all with you here.
This hotel was clean, offered breakfast (a delicious breakfast!) in the morning, and had amazing service. That being said, the location wasn’t our first pick. It was close to a subway station, but we actually ended up taking Grab (the Thai version of uber), taxis, tuk-tuks, or walking so the need to be close to the subway wasn’t that useful for us.
What to See:
Wat Pho – The reclining Buddha is one of the largest in the world (I was amazed at how big it was!) and there was gorgeous tile work. It was very busy with tourists, which was a little distracting but all of the “sites to see” were packed with other travelers. Make sure to wear long pants and a top with sleeves (men and women). We carried a backpack and Brian kept comfortable jogger pants in the bag to slip on over his shorts and I wore a maxi dress with short sleeves covering my shoulders. This dress code applies for all temples.
Wat Arun – Typically, you can climb Wat Arun and it is supposedly really beautiful at dawn or sunset, but we were unable to climb it due to construction. That being said, the tile-work on THIS particular temple was my favorite.
The Grand Palace – This is where the Emerald Buddha is, really pretty architecture here. Just outside of this temple, a “security guard” told us that the Grand Palace was closed so they could do a special ceremony with the monks. I hadn’t read about this ANYWHERE in my travel books – because it wasn’t true! We kind of fell into a scam here, but all ended well. People are very nice all over Thailand (the land of smiles is the nickname) but if something seems a little too good to be true, then it probably is. We should have googled “scams in Thailand” to know what to look out for, so I recommend you do that!
Get something custom made – we were only in Thailand for 1 day and they had 2 custom made winter dress coats, a blazer and a men’s dress shirt all delivered to our hotel by that evening!! We LOVE everything we had made 🙂
Get a massage every day!
Most of the temples require you to take off your shoes, so keep that in mind!
Where to Eat
A friend told me that one of the malls has an Eataly type food court in the basement called “Eathai.” They recommended the veggie Khao Soi from the stand in the back – we never made it here, but I bet it’s amazing!
There are tons of Michelin rated restaurants here, so if that’s your thing I would make a reservation because Thailand prices are way lower than American prices 🙂 We didn’t do this because we didn’t think about it until we were there and couldn’t get a reservation.
Grab a drink or a bite to eat on a roof top bar. It really feels like you are up in the clouds.
A friend recommended we stay here, and we were so thankful we took her advice! The location was amazing, as it was easy to walk to dinner and the night market and the hotel was BETTER than the pictures online. This hotel also had breakfast in the morning.
What to See and Do:
Thai Akha cooking school– we LOVED our experience here. We tried foods in the market we never would have tried, we cooked 11 dishes that were all DELICIOUS and we have the recipes so we can make them at home! Our guide was adorable, knowledgeable, and so funny 🙂
Cheeva Day Spa– We did a 4.5 hour spa treatment, which was super fun but a bit much (it was hard to stay still for that long!) BUT the prices are amazing compared to American prices. Even if you go for a shorter treatment, it’s fun to have that experience and feel so relaxed. And seriously get a massage every day!
The Sunday Night Market – The big evening to-do is the Sunday Night Market. Literally so many vendors, it’s fun to even just walk through and look at everything. There is a slightly smaller Saturday Night Market as well. There are many food vendors here as well as vendors selling other fun things to take home. The tip we heard about eating from street vendors: eat wherever there is a line of people and use a little common sense. For example, in our cooking class we sampled many foods at a day time market. There were two vendors next to each other selling the same thing. One vendor’s item looked fresh and pretty and the other vendor’s item looked a little “off.” We went with the one that looked the best and we were fine 🙂
Elephant Jungle Sanctuary– We did an ethical elephant excursion where we played with the elephants, fed them, bathed them, and hiked around with them for a bit. It was very fun and really neat to be so close to this amazing animal. We did the full day tour, but the half day would have been fine.
Where to Eat:
Dash – This is a MUST GO for dinner. You will feel like you are in a tree house, and the food is AMAZING. Seriously some of the best we had 🙂 A regional dish for Chiang Mai is called Khao Soi, we highly recommend getting this delish dish!
Other things to note:
Chiang Mai is very walkable depending on where you stay. We enjoyed walking to the night markets, restaurants, and coffee shops.
There are SO many beautiful flowers everywhere! I’m not sure if this exists, but it would have been fun to go on a guided nature tour or walk to learn more about the flowers and plants everywhere.
This resort was a little on the pricier side but it was SO worth it.
Koh Kood is a small island on the East side of the Gulf of Thailand. Most of the islands people stay at are on the Western side, and those islands are much more touristy and established. To get to Koh Kood, we flew from Chiang Mai to Bangkok, Bangkok to Trat, took a private car to the Laem Sok pier, and took a high speed boat just to get to the island. From there, the hotel picked us up at the dock and took us to our home away from home. It took a full day of travel to arrive by dinner time, but it was all part of the adventure and all went off without a hitch!
Once we arrived at Shantaa, we pretty much stayed there for the rest of our time on Koh Kood! We ate all of our meals there, spent our days laying by the beach, sipped fruity drinks, enjoyed a massage, and really relaxed. After lots of go-go-go it was really nice and fun to just kind of lay around for a couple of days (which is not something I normally look for in a vacation!)
We were able to meet the family that owns the property and they were so welcoming and friendly. Another thing to note was that despite the entire resort of 20 villas being completely booked during our stay, it really felt like we had the entire place to ourselves! The owners explained that was their intention with this little retreat away from busy city life.
The resort had kayaks, snorkel gear and stand up paddle boards for us to use, and we absolutely took advantage of this. The resort is right on the water with a private beach, and it is right next door to the public beach so it was very easy to access the water.
All of the food at the resort was so flavorful and fresh! Some of our favorite food was eaten here! Brian LOVED the green curry (he even had it for breakfast on our last day) and I loved one of their salads with fish, fresh vegetables and a peanut dressing. They were also happy to accommodate any special requests.
What to Do:
Klong Chao Waterfall
One morning, we decided to venture out to explore the Klong Chao Waterfall by renting a motorbike from our resort (an experience in itself!) and hiking to the waterfall.
Once we arrived at the head of the trail leading to the waterfall, it was just a quick hike to reach the gorgeous fall pictured above. We swam in the pool at the base of the fall and enjoyed its beauty.
One thing to note-this is a pretty popular tourist attraction so ARRIVE EARLY. When we arrived (shortly after our breakfast, so probably 9am) there was only one other couple at the waterfall. As we were leaving, there were several families with children hiking towards the fall. Personally, I feel like having many other people and families at the fall would have taken away from the peacefulness of the area. It was really nice to have the space mostly to ourselves.
That’s a wrap!
Overall, we LOVED our time in Thailand and talked about visiting again some day 🙂 If you are planning a trip to this part of the world, contact me via email and I will be happy to answer specific questions directly 🙂
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