Thailand Top Ten

December 3, 2012 in Asia, blog, Thailand, Travelogue

It’s hard to believe that we’re leaving Thailand in five short days. We arrived almost seven months ago and the time has flown.  

There are so many things we’ve come to love about this country, from the gentle pace of life, to the food and the culture. Tony says that it’s a close second, for him, to Guatemala, which is our favourite place so far.

Today we went to the post office and spent over an hour on the rodeo of packing 12 boxes to ship to various parts of North America with Christmas treasures. As international post office rodeos go, it could have been a lot worse.

We had fried rice for lunch, did our dinner shopping and came home the long way on our motorbike. I took special joy in the herd of water buffalo lurking in the shade of the rubber trees and the one up to his buffalo pits in mud, having a nice wallow. I may not see these fellows again for a while.

If you’re wondering about Thailand and whether it would make a good place to take your family for an extended wander, our answer is a resounding, “YES!”

Here are our top ten favourite things from our time here:

 Golden Triangle10. Golden Triangle, Northern Thailand

If you go north to Chiang Mai, rent a car and strike out on your own.

Take a week or, better yet, two and drive up to Chiang Rai and the Golden Triangle where Burma, Thailand and Laos all come together around a branch of the Mekong River. Drive slowly through the mountains of the hill tribes. Stop and buy coffee. Visit some wats. Look for a local market along the Burmese border and dig through the stalls for silver. Camp in some bamboo bungalows in a rice paddy.

And no, you can’t really sit in the Buddha’s lap… that would be very rude! This picture was photoshopped!

Take your time. Open your eyes. 

 9. Hill Tribes Museum, Chiang Rai 

Unquestionably the best museum we visited in Thailand.

It’s a hole in the wall, but it’s a wealth of information. You definitely want to take your kids here before you head off into the hill tribes areas. In three small rooms and one movie they manage to give you an overview of the history and culture of the hill tribes that populate northern Thailand. We learned more about opium cultivation, native fishing practices, the crafting of silver, old school rice production, the movement of the Chinese south, the effect of the conflicts along the Burmese border on the Karen people and the current exploitation of the people groups for the tourist trade than we ever thought possible. It seems like you don’t have time for this museum, but trust me when I tell you that you can’t afford to miss this one.

8. White Wat, Chiang Rai 

Can I just say how much we loved this place.

It was completely different than any other wat we’ve ever visited, which is entirely the point. It’s modern art, social commentary, religious devotion and an exercise in social justice as well. The golden bathroom and what that meant to the designer. That was my favourite. If you haven’t read about this place, click the link and see the pictures… there really were aliens in the courtyard and Avatars painted on the inside, to say nothing of the addition of portraits of Osama bin Laden and G.W. Bush. Yes, really.

 7. Pai 

If we ever come back to Thailand, we’ll live here.

What can I say about this little town except that we fell in love. It reminds us of San Marcos in some ways. I think the gentle blend of slower travelers and laid back local was part of it. We made some new friends there too, which didn’t hurt. And we had a little encounter with the police over our fourth of July celebration… that was an adventure! Not too many places have truly walkable towns with bamboo bridges over the river, live music floating from cafes, and places you can grab dinner for about two bucks. If we’re lucky enough to get another half year in this beautiful country, we’ll spend it up north, tucked into the valley around Pai.

6. Night Market, Chiang Rai

We’ve been to a lot of night markets. They’re almost all night markets here, starting in the late afternoon and winding up as the sun goes down. It’s just too hot to do it any other way. The night market in Chiang Rai was especially lovely. It’s populated with loads of handicrafts brought in by the surrounding hill tribes and in the center of the market is a lovely pagoda decorated with cut tin that hosts nightly performances of local music and dance. It’s a beautiful place to spend the evening and a free way to be exposed to some of the local talent.

Even if it’s raining, they’ll still be performing!

5. Kite Surfing, Nai Yang

Our big project of the summer was learning to kite surf.

Can I just say, it’s harder than it looks! Only Gabe managed to get fully certified. The rest of us have a few classes left when we find another windy spot on the globe to finish up our requirements! If you dream of whipping across the waves by wind power alone, I recommend Nai Yang for the perfect, quiet beach to learn on. Come during monsoon season, because it’s those winds that provide the power; come fall and high season, the seas on the Andaman side become as smooth as glass. Then it’s good for snorkeling!

4. Sunday Market, Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai is everything “they” say it is. We loved it.

The wats, the walled old town, the bustling markets, the waterfalls; all of it. We loved it. Being a sucker for markets, of course the Sunday market was my favourite thing. It fell on our last day in town and it was such a lovely way to end the trip north, shopping for a few last treasures, sipping iced Thai tea with new friends and haggling over the price of a raspberry coloured dress that makes me feel like I’m dressed in a tulip blossom. If you go to Chiang Mai, don’t miss the Sunday market. Have an iced Thai tea for me.

3. Snorkeling, Nai Yang 

Once the kite surfing dies down, the waters of the Andaman clears and becomes a bath tub warm liquid crystal that is teeming with sea life.

One of our very best days was spent snorkeling around a small outcropping of rock with a patch of jungle stretching into the sky.

We saw our very first cuttlefish, eels, beautiful parrot fish, schools of little yellow and black striped fish, electric blue anemone and so much more. The water was so warm that we could swim for hours and when we were sick of looking at fish we could leap from the bow of the boat into a shower of bubbles while the boys fished off of the back. Even our little friend Kayden snorkeled, saw his first ocean fish and got to hold a starfish!

2. Chieow Laan Lake, Khao Sok 

Our visit to Chieow Laan Lake was a fabulous serendipity.

Complete strangers invited us up for the weekend and, as so often is the case, perfect strangers turned out to be perfect friends! If you want to get off of the beaten track in southern Thailand, visit this lake. I don’t even have words to describe it except, “other-worldly.” It’s a nature preserve and a haven for people and animals alike. If you go, be sure to contact our friends Kris and Awh and let them set it up for you. My only caveat: this is an adventure for big kids. If you have anyone much under 6 or 7, or if they aren’t excellent swimmers, you should take a boat ride, maybe have lunch on the lake, but an overnight stay would be dangerous. There are all sorts of hazards, the water is very deep and if I’d had littles I would have been a basket case and it would not have been fun.

1. Elephant Riding, Pai 

I’ve said it before, and at the end of our seven months here, it remains true: the absolute highlight of our time in Thailand was the day we went riding on elephants in Pai.

Thom’s Elephant Camp is fantastic. If you’re looking for a place to ride elephants where they’re cared for properly and respected, this is your place. The hills around Pai are straight out of a postcard. The elephants were Ezra’s 10th birthday present, and it’s not one he’s likely to ever forget. Just this weekend, when he was laying in bed with me while I was sick, he was drawing elephants and talking about Pai. Don’t bother with most of the elephant camps, do your research, find one that is humane, that cares as much about the creatures as the almighty dollar, or, just go straight to Thom’s and tell her we sent you.