Like most people, whenever I go on vacation, I find that before I know it, I’m already heading back to the airport to go home. I spend the next week daydreaming about my trip highlights and plotting where I’ll go the next time I visit.
There’s a Tagolog (Filipino) word for that feeling – bitin (pronounced “bitten”) – when something leaves you hanging….wanting more.
Well, Thailand made me bitin. Luckily I picked up a few pointers that will help me on my next trip.
1) It’s Hot.
I already knew that it’s hot there; but coming from the Philippines, I thought I could handle it. I. Was. Wrong.
On our first full day, the temperature reached 41 C. (that’s about 105 F.) Factor in humidity you’re in sweat city. This dog had the right idea…
2) Do Not Trust Wily Strangers
If you visit Bangkok, you must be prepared to handle the tourist scams – which are aplenty. I did my homework before we traveled, so I was on the lookout for fake gem dealers, suit tailors, and the infamous tuk tuks.
Tuk Tuks are little motorized rickshaws. They are brightly colored and each one has its own character. Quite charming, actually; but the drivers feed on on unsuspecting tourists by grossly overcharging or – even worse- offering a too-good-to-be-true-price, then taking passengers to the gem dealers, the suit tailors – anywhere else but your intended destination.
And these sorts of things really do happen!
One afternoon we walked to Wat Po and the Grand Palace. A man approached us along the way.
Man: Where are you going?
Me: Wat Po.
Man: Oh, Wat Po closed at 1:00 PM. Today Buddha Day. I take you to better temple open now, we go now. I give you good price.
He starts leading us to his tuk tuk. Then I remembered my research – this was exactly the kind of stuff I read about. I politely declined. He continued to push, and we finally just walked away. Within five minutes we found Wat Po and the Grand Palace. Both were open.
Signs like this (below) are posted all over the temple walls. Boy was I glad we didn’t hop in that tuk tuk!
3) Go to the Floating Markets on a Weekend- And Not Through a Guided Tour
One of the first things I picture when I think of Thailand is the famous floating markets. Back in the day this was really how locals bought and sold their goods and produce. Today, most of this is staged for tourists; in fact, it did feel a little like a Disneyland ride. Still, I’m not too cool to avoid the touristy areas and bonus points for supporting the locals. The excursion would have been better by:
a) Visiting on the weekend when it’s much busier and vibrant.
b) Freestyling the trip versus riding with a tour group, where we were shuttled along like cattle. And again, just like Disney, after the “ride” you end up in an area where you have the chance to buy last minute – and overpriced – goods. Nevertheless it was a fun experience and I did learn my lesson about avoiding packaged tours. Not my style!
If I had gone on a Saturday or Sunday, this placed would have been jam packed!
4) Go the the Full Moon Party
The Full Moon Party takes places on Koh Phangan island. It originated in the eighties with just a few backpackers. As the name suggests, it takes place every month on the night of the full moon. Nowadays, it attracts nearly 30,000 people during high season.
Obviously, it’s madness. Alcohol is sold by the bucket. Everybody wears neon and face paint. Walk down the beach and you’ll see party-goers playing jump rope with a rope that’s on fire. Go a little further and you can dance in foam that’s up to your neck. Maybe it’s the full moon, or maybe it’s the buckets of alcohol – but it will bring out your wild side, even if you’re just sitting on the sidelines watching the madness unfold.
Yes, this is me with neon paint on my face….in an American flag outfit. You have to be there to understand…
5) Get Away from the Full Moon Party
The Full Moon Party is an amazingly awesome feast for all senses. You have to immerse yourself in all the fun; but for a well-rounded experience, you also need to get away from the party and enjoy it from a distance.
Option #1) Venture to the edge of the beach and climb the stairs up to an area called Mushroom Mountain. I am in no way condoning the “special” shakes they offer here. Bad idea. Period.
But – The view of the festivities down below is unforgettable. Lights. Music. Masses of people. We sat up here for about an hour, enjoying the view and meeting new people. Interestingly, I met a girl from – of all places – Newport Beach in Orange County. What are the chances of that?
Here is a view of Mushroom Mountain…
And the climb back down…
While we were at the Full Moon Party we saw a few people riding small boats into the darkness of the night. We asked around, nobody really knew where those boats were headed. Feeling adventurous, we hopped on one. Except for a small light at the front of our boat, it was pitch black for about 15 minutes. We didn’t know where we were going or how long it would take to get there…
Eventually the boat landed on the shore of another beach. We followed a trail, which led us down a rickety walkway. At this point there was still no sign of any other person. We climbed a rock and started to hear music, laughter, and other signs of people. Thank God.
We continued following the sound, turned a corner, and stumbled upon a hidden club called Eden. It was an older, more mellow crowd. My neon American flag getup suddenly felt a little ridiculous. Once again though, it was great getting away from the masses.
When we wanted to head back to the main beach, we retraced our steps and hopped back on a boat. Upon our return, the Full Moon Party was still going strong, wild as ever. I was pleased with myself, like I discovered a secret place.
6 – Savor the Local Flavor
My new bucket list item is to enjoy my favorite cuisines in the actual country from which they originate. And Thai food was a great place to start.
I ate pineapple fried rice served in a pineapple, along with out-of-this-world-spicy curry sitting alongside the beach. That, for me, is ultimate happiness.
Of course, I had to try the bugs too…believe me, once is enough.
So, that sums up my top 6 things I learned in Thailand. Good or bad, I wouldn’t change anything about the trip. Besides, there’s always next time, right?