After almost three months on the road without seeing a familiar face, I was super excited to visit my cousin in Bangkok. She’s been living in the Thai capital for almost a year and was therefore the best tour guide I could have wished for. We avoided the tourist attractions and did other kinds of fun activities. After catching up while having coffee and Swiss muesli, we went for a foot massage, which was heavenly. I was so impressed by the value of money! A one-hour foot massage or a one-hour Thai massage cost as little as 200 THB, which is about 5 EUR. A real bargain! After the massage, we met up with one of my cousin’s friends as we wanted to use the swimming pool on the rooftop of the building that her friend lives in. Well, unfortunately, the rain interfered with our plans as it was pouring down at the time that we got to her friend’s apartment. Instead of going swimming, we played Mario Cart (no joke!) while eating some delicious and super cheap Thai food from one of the little restaurants that you can find along the streets of Bangkok. Afterwards, we went to a soccer game that my cousin’s friend has been invited to by one of the players. I forgot for which big team he’d been playing, but he’s apparently pretty well known. It was a really nice experience, especially seeing the enthusiasm of the fans of each team. After the soccer game, we went for dinner in the W District, a pretty hip area with lots of food stalls. I went for a green curry, but there are so many more options. There is something for everyone and should definitely be on your to-do list for Bangkok.
On the second day, we met up with my cousin’s friend again and went for brunch at Toby’s, a cafe / restaurant managed by an Australian. Oh boy, it was delicious! Both my cousin and I love breakfast and so we dug in!
Breakfast is by far my favourite meal of the day and Toby’s fulfills every breakfast lover’s wishes! It was heaven!
After brunch, my cousin and I explored the Bangkrachao Peninsula by bicycle. You can get to the peninsula by long tail boat, which was a great experience! The peninsula is really pretty and not that touristic. We stopped by the floating market, a super busy market that is not really floating but still worth visiting as you really get the Thai vibe there. Afterwards, we went for a smoothie in a really nice and hip cafe, whose name I forgot. We ended our day with a visit of the Rod Fai Night Market, another must-do in Bangkok.
After getting a hair cut at one of the barber’s, we explored all the food stalls. It can be quite overwhelming if you’re not used to night markets, but definitely give it a go! We decided on curry soup with noodles and it was delicious. Afterwards, we strolled through the myriad of stalls that sell anything wearable, from jewelry, hats, bags to clothes. After shopping, we were still a bit hungry, so we went back to the food section and got some more deliciousness! At the end, I tried an Ovaltine. Yes, you read correctly. In Thailand, it’s not called Ovomaltine as in Switzerland but Ovaltine. The brand is the same though as my cousin confirmed. Fun fact: The Thais think that Ovaltine originated in Thailand. Well, let’s not argue about that! The Ovaltine is prepared with lots of Ovaltine powder and an equal amount of condensed milk. You can imagine how sweet it was! It felt like pure sugar. I managed half of the cup with a little help of my cousin. We ended the evening on one of the rooftop bars, overlooking the colourful tents. It was magical!
On my third day in Bangkok I was on my own as my cousin had to go to work. James, who I’d met in Sri Lanka, also happened to be in Bangkok and so we decided to meet up at the Grand Palace. Well, that was the plan; but there were so many tourists that we didn’t find each other. It was pure chaos and I was already annoyed when I finally managed to get in. I had a hard time getting into the complex in the first place because the guards refused to let me in twice. Apparently, it is not accepted to cover your shoulders by a scarf. So I had to go out and buy a T-shirt from one of the shops outside. When I tried to get in again with my T-shirt on, they sent me out again to buy pants because my pants didn’t reach my ankles but were above my ankles for like 4 cm. Don’t get me wrong, I do respect their religion and rites, but this was not about religion anymore but about making extra money by having people buy clothes. From my time in India and Sri Lanka, I do know how to dress appropriately for places of worship: Both shoulders and knees need to be fully covered, which they were in my case. The fact that they didn’t tell me that you can borrow clothes only confirms my suspicions. When I finally got a ticket for 500 THB, I was definitely not in the best mood. The fact that I couldn’t find James only added to my frustration. After waiting for a bit, I decided to go in by myself. There were people everywhere and I had a hard time getting through. All of a sudden, I started to tremble and at that point, I really just wanted to get out. I don’t think I’ve ever left a temple that quickly. I just couldn’t cope with these crowds that day. No more temples for me in Bangkok!
Instead, I decided to go for another massage to calm down and forget about the frustrating experience. I felt so much better afterwards and was ready to start the day anew. The best part of the day was definitely the Muay Thai class in the 61 Fight Club Studio with my cousin in the evening. And I can tell you, it was sooo much fun! I always wanted to try it and I was so happy when it worked out. I hurt my ankle because I didn’t kick correctly, but the pain was so worth it!
If you get the chance to try it, go for it! It was definitely one of the highlights of my trip so far and I was lucky enough to experience it with my cousin. I really had the most amazing three days with my cousin and I can definitely understand why she likes living in Bangkok so much! Afterwards, I met a lot of travelers who hadn’t liked Bangkok at all. I think I might have had similar feelings if I didn’t had the chance to explore the city with my cousin and avoid tourist traps. Just do less conventional things and avoid the crowds and I’m sure you’ll like the city much better. There would have been so many other things to do, but I also mainly wanted to spend time with my cousin and see the city from another perspective.
So after three days in Bangkok, I packed my backpack again and made my way to the airport to fly to Chiang Mai. Since my ankle was still hurting from the Muay Thai class, I had to cancel the hiking tour in Chiang Mai, which I was pretty sad about, but you can’t have everything, can you? Instead, I went for a massage at the Women’s Massage Center by Ex-Prisoners. As the name suggests, the massage center has been established for female ex-prisoners. After their time in prison, the center supports the women and helps them to re-integrate into society by qualifying them as masseuses. It was definitely a unique experience and should not be missed. The women are very friendly and give their very best! I got a two-hour Thai massage for as little as 400 THB, which is about 10 EUR. It was heavenly and I was able to fully relax. For the rest of the day, I walked around the city and explored some of the temples in the city center.
On my second day in Chiang Mai, I decided to visit the Golden Temple, which is also known as Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. Normally, I would have hiked up, but since my ankle was still not fine, I took a Songthaew. Songthaews are basically shared taxis. You can share a Songthaew with up to 10 people. The more people, the cheaper the ride. The departure point for the temple is at the North Gate (Chang Phuak Gate). Just look out for dark red cars. On the ride, I met John and a couple from Germany. Believe it or not, but on our ride to the temple, John found a box of puppies. Apparently, the driver took them to their mother. We will never know what really happened to the cute puppies…
John, the German couple and I ended up exploring the temple area together. John asked me to give him a shout out in my blog, so here you go, buddy!
The temple is definitely worth a visit. In addition to the beautiful temple complex, you also get really nice views over the Chiang Mai area. After the temple visit, John and I got lunch at Huen Phen, a local restaurant with a great menu. Following lunch, we decided to have some coffee in one of the cafes close-by, the Akha Ama Coffee. I really liked the coffee as well as the interior design and the atmosphere. Afterwards, we walked towards the Chiang Mai night market area. On our way, we stopped at a so-called fish spa. John hesitated, but I finally convinced him to give it a go! It was hilarious because we couldn’t stop laughing as we’re both pretty ticklish. It was definitely an experience! After the fish spa, we went to the night market. There are actually several night markets. My favourite one was the Ploen Ruedee Night Market, a super hip and cool location. It’s like a street food festival with music and great people. We ran into some of the people from John’s hostel and hung around with them for the rest of the evening.
The next morning, I was picked up at 6:30 am to go to the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, a day I had been excited for for so long. I had booked the full-day tour, which included a trek with the elephants in the afternoon in addition to the feeding and bathing of the elephants in the morning. I had been researching quite a few sanctuaries because I really wanted to choose an organisation that is ethical and treats the elephants respectfully and according to their natural habits. Unfortunately, a lot of institutions call themselves sanctuary but do not really live up to that term. A friend of mine recommended the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary to me and after doing some research on it, it did sound like an ethical sanctuary. The most important aspects for me were that the sanctuary did not offer elephant riding and that the elephants are not chained up at anytime. From all the sanctuaries, the Elephant Sanctuary was probably the most ethical one. Nevertheless, I think the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary could still improve some things. In my view, for instance, the number of participants in the morning was a bit borderline (we were about 16 people and 6 elephants). Furthermore, the focus was too much on getting the perfect picture than actually interacting with the elephants. For that, the participants have to be held responsible for though. I do like to take pictures, but I honestly get fed up with people who only care about the picture and not about the actual animal or monument or whatever it is they’re visiting. I’ve been in that situation so many times where people actually only see their surroundings through their lense and not with their actual eyes and that makes me pretty angry, especially because these people are missing the point of travelling. As I said, I like pictures and I do take pictures as well, but a picture should never be the reason why you visit a certain place.
In the afternoon, most people left and only six of us remained for the trek. The trek was really nice as the elephants could move around freely and play around in the forest. It was my favourite part of the day. In the end, we visited another camp where they had a baby elephant. Oh my God, this baby girl was the cutest!
So, if you visit a sanctuary, please do some research in advance and make sure that elephant riding is not allowed. Elephant riding is very harmful for the elephants as they can easily break their necks or legs during the rides. They are not built for these tourist attractions! Please consider this.
After almost three days in Chiang Mai, I took a bus to Chiang Rai, which took about 2.5 hours. If I had to choose between Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai, I’d definitely go for Chiang Mai, but I had to go towards the border to Laos anyways, so Chiang Rai was kind of a short stopover. I stayed at the Le Meridien, which was a treat after having stayed in hostels for the last few weeks. As a SPG Platinum Member, I got a really good deal and a super nice upgrade, which I enjoyed to the fullest. The service was one of the best I’ve ever experienced.
A friend of mine had recommended Suwannee’s Cooking Class and since I wanted to do a cooking class anyways, I contacted Suwannee and booked a class with her. It was absolutely amazing! I’ve done a cooking class in India before but Suwannee’s cooking class was so much more interactive and interesting. I loved that she first went to the market with us to actually see where she gets all the ingredients from.
We were also able to taste so many fruit, vegetables and Thai delicacies that we might otherwise have never tried. The cooking itself was also great because Suwannee explained everything in so much detail that I will hopefully be able to replicate it back home.
I really enjoyed it and learnt so much about Thai food and Thai culture. If you’re planning on going to Chiang Rai and are interested in cooking, you should not miss Suwannee’s cooking class. It was one of many highlights in Northern Thailand.
After the cooking class, Suwannee dropped me off at the bus station and from there I took a Songthaew to the White Temple. Compared to most other temples I’ve visited so far, the White Temple was built very recently. It was only opened in 1997. The White Temple is definitely unique and unconventional in every way. The symbolism of the temple is worth looking into as it’s very rich.
Bangkok and Northern Thailand were certainly amazing and very promising with regard to my trip to Southern Thailand in August. Stay tuned for my adventures in the South!
Restaurants: W District, Toby’s, Sabai-Jai in Ekkamai
Sights: Bangkrachao Peninsula, Rod Fai Night Market, Muay Thai class
Accommodation: Awana House
Restaurants / Cafes: Huen Phen (lunch/dinner), Akha Ama Coffee, Overstand (breakfast)
Sights: Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, several temples in the old city, Ploen Ruedee Night Market
Activities: Elephant Sanctuary, hiking, massage at the Women’s Massage Center by ex-prisoners
Accommodation: Le Meridien Chiang Rai Resort
Cafes: De Lanna Riverfront
Sights: White Temple
Activity: Suwannee’s Cooking Class