thailand: the vacation recap, part 1: chiang mai

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[Above picture taken in the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai]

I have been trying to write this post for WEEKS. last night, someone asked me about my trip and I forgot some details of the itinerary already, and in that moment, I knew that I needed to finally write this post to memorialize the epic trip we took so that I'd never forget any of it!

let's start off with Thailand and chiang mai specifically. Bali will come next. they're two totally different places and both deserve a full recap.

[Above picture taken walking through Chaing Mai temples. Dress by Target]

and to preface, we did NOT use a travel agent or booking service, we did everything ourselves and customized the trip to fit our interests and traveling preferences. Google is a beautiful thing - we also reached out to many of our friends who had done it before for advice/tips!

thailand: chiang mai, part 1

We went to Thailand during rainy season and although it only rained for 2 hours one day (on Sunday evening, the 19th), it was really, really hot - and buggy! Everything was lush and green (they actually call it "the green season"), but it's definitely something to think about, especially if you're planning a honeymoon - it's not exactly sexy when you're dripping sweat and your hair is a frizz ball every day, haha! We literally averaged 3-4 showers every day while in Chiang Mai.

Despite that, it was an incredible experience. More so than Bali, Thailand felt exotic and certainly Asian (which was what I wanted to experience.) From the temples at every turn in Chiang Mai to the incredible beaches and islands in Krabi, Thailand felt like we had traveled across the world. I loved that.

[Above picture taken in Chiang Mai, wearing a low-impact sports bra, small purse, and comfortable walking sneakers per my packing tips below]

We over-packed. And if you're a woman reading this, do yourself a favor and don't go crazy buying sun/pool dresses before the trip. In both Northern and Southern Thailand, there are so many cute shops (whether in the city or on the beach) full of gorgeous patterns and lightweight cloth, perfect for every day. I wish I had packed less and then loaded up on these $5 dresses while I was there. 

Speaking of packing:

MUST PACKS

  • Sneakers that you're not afraid to ruin: I actually bought $45 on-sale Skechers sneakers before the trip! I ended up giving away my sneakers to a hotel employee the morning we left Bali to go home.
  • Low-impact sports bras: you do a LOT of walking and it's HOT in Thailand - and if you have a larger chest, let me tell you: you'll sweat through your regular bras (gross!) I brought comfortable sports bras for low-impact that didn't push me into a uni-boob, but offered support as I walked all day and absorbed the sweat.
  • A small, zip-close purse: for my ladies reading this (aka 99.9% of you), don't bring a huge bag - you don't need it! Be free! I bought this bag at Target and literally kept my hotel key, our Thai Bahts, a credit card, some chapstick, tissues, bug spray, my cell phone, and camera in it.  
  • Lightweight pants or a sarong to wrap around your legs: when you enter the temples in Thailand, you have to cover your legs and shoulders. They do offer free cloaks to wear in the temples if you forget, but everyone is allowed to wear them so if you're a remote germaphobe, that's not an option. I ended up buying the most adorable elephant pants in Thailand for $6, but if you don't want to purchase anything while you're there, bring them!
  • Advil: if you're prone to headaches, bring Advil! Lu had a really bad headache one day and we couldn't find Advil anywhere. they do have an Asian equivalent, but if you're brand-loyal, bring your favorite headache/hangover medication.

[Above photo taken at Pantawan Cooking School in Chiang Mai, showing off the elephant pants I bought in a night market]

LEAVE AT HOME/DON'T PACKS

  • Heels or anything dressy: it is extremely casual in Thailand (and even more so in Bali). embrace the casual vibe. I brought about 3 "dressy" dresses and I ended up not wearing them, because I felt overdressed. If you're on your honeymoon and staying at a nice hotel (like the Anantara), you can get away with not feeling overdressed because it's a bit more upscale, but the second you leave the property, you're going to wish you were wearing shorts and a tank.
  • Bug spray: each hotel we stayed at had bug spray available and provided it for you in the room and while you were on property, by the pool, at the restaurants, wherever!

THINGS I WISH I HAD BUT NOT NECESSARY

  • Waterproof case/pouch for the smart phone: there were so many times when I couldn't take photos because I didn't want to risk getting my phone wet and although we had the GoPro, it's not the same! 
  • Waterproof bag: luckily our hotel in Thailand provided waterproof bags when we did water sports, but then when we went to Bali especially and visited all the different beaches, we wish we had a waterproof bag. they're ugly, but so helpful! 

the itinerary

Friday, June 17: 10am flight to Chiang Mai via Cathay Pacific, with a short 3-hour layover in Hong Kong. 

The flight actually wasn't THAT bad. It was about 15 hours to Hong Kong and then another 3-ish to Chiang Mai. We were so excited on the way there, that the flight flew by. Lu watched movies, I slept a lot and read. We didn't look much into which are the best airlines to fly, we booked based on price. We flew Premium Economy (so one above Economy, but nothing like Business or First class.) We lucked out and got the emergency aisle seats, so we had no one in front of us and could stretch out! 

Saturday, June 18: arrival to Chiang Mai, 5:20pm

We arrived and checked into the Anantara Chiang Mai Hotel. The hotel picked us up at the airport. When we arrived to our hotel, we were blown away. It was stunning and perfectly location- it was within walking distance of the downtown markets, around a few great restaurants and coffee shops, and there were Tuk Tuks (the motorbike-like cabs of Chiang Mai) outside our hotel at all times. The Tuk Tuk rides never exceeded $3-4 anywhere, it was very inexpensive. 

We were exhausted from our trip, so we pretty much showered, took a brief nap, and then had dinner at the restaurant and went to bed early, excited for the morning to arrive so we could explore the city! 

Sunday, June 19: chiang mai full day #1

We decided to get right into it! We woke up, worked out (after sitting in planes for about 20 hours, I needed to move my booty!) and then had an amazing Thai breakfast at the hotel (the hotel's breakfasts were EPIC and right on the river.) After breakfast, we took a cab and got to the Fah Lannah Spa, which I 100% recommend! The spa at our hotel was way too expensive ($130+/massage) whereas Fah Lannah Spa was totally affordable, but still felt luxurious - about $10-$30 for a massage. I recommend making a reservation beforehand with your hotel, if possible. We got the 10am couples massage and it was incredible. After that, we just meandered through the area, discovering temples around every corner. We walked through the Chedi Laung "Wat" and just kept walking.

[Above picture taken of Fah Lannah Spa's entrance!]

After that, we headed back to our hotel in a Tuk Tuk, grabbed some food, and then rented a driver to take us to a temple farther up in the mountains, Wat Prathat Doi Suthep. It was absolutely stunning - a gold temple, it was a hike to get up, but gorgeous, spiritual, and felt like we were truly experiencing a different culture.

We came back to the hotel, showered, took a long nap (ha!) and then headed to the Sunday night "walking street." If you plan a trip to Chiang Mai, make sure you plan it around being in Chiang Mai on a Sunday. They have their biggest night market that night and it's full of great vendors selling everything you could possibly imagine - most importantly, food! Honestly, the best food I had in Thailand was at this night market! We walked around for hours and then it started raining (only for about 2 hours) so we stopped and got one hour long foot massages for $4!!! We loved the pad thai, the Kao Soi Gai, and the papaya salad. Amazing cultural experience.

Monday, June 20: chiang mai full day #2

Our 1 year wedding anniversary!! What a way to spend this day. We laced up our sneakers, put on gym clothes, and got in a van that picked us up at the hotel and headed up into the mountains to the Elephant Nature Park, a reserve park for saved elephants. I can't recommend this activity enough. It's a sanctuary for elephants who have been enslaved other places - whether that's at a zoo, an elephant camp, a circus, wherever. It's the most compassionate place I've ever seen. These poor elephants. On your way up in the van, you watch a video called the "Spirit of the Elephant", where they explain to you the business behind elephants. These elephants are torn from their families, chained to trees for 7 days and "broken" so that they can be trained to perform for humans. It's so cruel - they're abused, hurt, starved, and treated like they have no brains or feelings, but in fact, they're actually highly emotional and intelligent animals.

Anyway. If you go to Thailand to see elephants, DO NOT RIDE THEM. It's absolutely cruel and heartless. At Elephant Nature Park (ENP), they let you feed, bathe, and basically hang out with the elephants. You start off by feeding them watermelons and cucumbers (so cool!) and then you walk around with them a bit. It's a gorgeous, expansive reserve - and fun to just see the elephants walking in their normal habitat. Then you have lunch, which is a 100% vegetarian lunch that's absolutely delicious and veggie-packed. After that, you go and bathe the elephants! You can tell they love it so much, especially because it's so dang hot! 

A truly incredible experience and I really recommend it! After that, we showered, napped (are you seeing a theme) and went out to dinner for our anniversary. We were so exhausted so we asked for a recommendation from the hotel, but to be honest, we weren't impressed! The street market food and the food at the hotel was better and more authentic. Oh well, still a great day! 

Tuesday, June 21: chiang mai full day #3

It was hard to beat the prior day, but we started the day off with another massage (same place - Fah Lannah Spa!) and then afterwards, we decided to explore more of Chiang Mai on foot. We went to the coffee shop that's part of the spa and it was amazing - great drinks, just be sure to ask for no sugar! They add palm sugar syrup to EVERYTHING (they call it "sugar water"), so just be mindful if you're sugar conscious (like I am)!

[Above picture taken in the Chiang Mai arts district]

From there, we literally explored - we went to Woo Cafe & Art Gallery for lunch, which is in an adorable arts district. The food and ambiance was like nothing I had ever seen, I really recommend it - and get the vegetable noodle stir fry dish!  We couldn't stop taking photos and bought our first souvenir there (aside from my elephant pants, ha!) - two hand-painted white elephants. They now live in our apartment - one in our living room and one in our bedroom.

After that, we keep talking around and exploring. We found more temples and just had a fun day exploring, walking off all the delicious noodles! 

That evening, we went to our cooking class at Pantawan Cooking School. First, we took a 30 minute ride to an outdoor food market where the instructor took us through and pointed out some traditional Thai ingredients, like lemongrass, galangal, Kaffir limes and leaves, and chili peppers! It was truly incredible and so happy they took us there. Then, we traveled about 10-15 minutes more to the cooking school which was outdoors.

Now, if you're looking into all the different schools and truly want something authentic, go with Pantawan. The instructors are AMAZING (they speak perfect English - French too!) and they are exuberant and enthusiastic about Thai cooking. They demonstrate everything well, they encourage learning, and they help you have fun. It's held in a traditional Thai-style house and every night, there's a different menu. On this one, we made four different dishes - each person had their own station (even Lu cooked - I was SO PROUD!) Then, we all sat together and ate the delicious dinner we had prepared. It was a blast and my only recommendation would be to wear something light and breathable, because they don't have air conditioning, only fans, because it's part of the authenticity! 

Wednesday, June 22: chiang mai + travel to Krabi (Southern Thailand)

It was hard to leave Chiang Mai, but we were excited for our next leg of the trip. This day, we just walked around again - it was the hottest day we were there, so it was a little miserable, especially because the whole time we felt like we had to leave and Lu gets very anxious traveling. if we had to do it all over again, we would've cut the trip down by a day, because we didn't really "need" this last day - we had crammed so much into our first few days! but, we did eat.

[Above picture taken at Dada Cafe in Chiang Mai of their veggie pad thai and papaya salad - both amazing!]

we got to the airport and flew to Krabi (KBX) via AirAsia. It was only a 2 hour flight. when we arrived, it was already getting dark! we arrived around 6:30pm. the hotel picked us up to bring us to the resort. it was such a cool experience, actually - we got picked up in a cab and driven to a pier. then, you get picked up in a boat and take a 15 minute ride to the resort, where you then get on another boat that takes you right up to the beach and you hop off onto the sand! 

we were greeted with the most delicious coconut milk sorbet drinks and then checked into our villa at Rayavadee. I seriously can't recommend this place enough - ESPECIALLY if you're honeymooning, because we felt like we were! when we arrived to our room, there was a bottle of champagne there with two flutes with a note that said, "happy anniversary!" we popped it open and drank a few glasses, sitting on the couch, just feeling so blessed and grateful for this trip and our marriage. we unpacked a bit and headed to the Thai restaurant at the hotel (the hotel property had four restaurants!) 

we went home early, exhausted, and absolutely ecstatic for the next part of our adventure! 

NEXT UP: Krabi, Thailand: the recap, stay tuned!