When you think of Thailand, you most likely think of pristine white beaches with clear blue waters, delicious food, and elephants…and that’s exactly what you will get!
Thailand had been on my travel wish list for some time and I finally managed to get there on a cultural yoga retreat. In 2017 I joined a yoga studio and got to know one of the instructors, Michelle Ruiz, really well. We both shared a love for travel and lucky for me, she had decided to organize a 10 day retreat to Thailand. She was eager to share one of her favorite spots of the world with her yoga tribe.
I think the most daunting thing about traveling to Asia is the length of flight time just to get there, but once you’re there it is all worth it.
Use Bangkok as a Pit Stop!
Bangkok is a great starting point to get your body adjusted to the new time change and to stretch your legs for a couple days. It’s a bustling city with skyscrapers and mega malls, but don’t be fooled with all the big city vibes as you can still visit the many temples Bangkok has to offer.
I stayed at the ultra-lux Marriott Sukhumvit hotel in the heart of the city. The hotel is beautiful and in a great location, has a pool overlooking the city, and a breakfast buffet that is delectable with a variety of local fruits and daily juices to jump start your morning. There is a metro stop in walking distance, amazing massage parlors right around the corner (and basically everywhere you turn), and great shopping near by.
If you’re looking to stretch out your muscles from the long journey, then walk no further than 200 meters from the hotel to Asia Herb. You will experience a top notch Thai massage with essential oils of your preference and for any length of time you desire. A true reinvigorating experience.
There are many temples or Wats all over the city. The easiest way to see them is probably by booking a packaged tour, like our small group did. The tour lasted for at approximately 6 hours of the day, but included lunch in Chinatown. If you don’t like the idea of being tied down to a schedule for 6 hours, then a group tour isn’t for you. I have included 3 must see temples to visit in case you decide to venture on your own.
Wat Arun – This wat is one of Bangkok’s most well known landmarks and can be easily accessed by a boat or ferry. It is situated on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River which means it catches the sun’s first rays in the morning which reflects off the pearly white facade of the temple. While walking around the wat, you will see meticulously painted porcelain that adorns the spires with all sorts of figures and designs.
Wat Pho – Also known as Temple of the Reclining Buddha, this wat has the largest collection of buddha images and statues. If you’re into yoga don’t be afraid to document your skills alongside any statues! You will also find the Reclining Buddha, which is nearly 151 ft long (46 m) and the largest there is in Thailand. Once you come around its 14 ft long feet, you’ll notice 108 bronze bowls lining the wall on your way out. It is believed that anyone who drops 1 coin in each bowl will receive good fortune.
Grand Palace – Not too far from Wat Pho, you can visit the Grand Palace known for housing the Emerald Buddha. The Temple of the Emerald Buddha is regarded as the most sacred Buddhist Temple in Thailand. You may envision this Buddha to be impressive and somewhat of a large structure, but it is roughly 2 ft tall and carved from a single jade stone. An interesting tradition is that the King of Thailand changes the Emerald Buddha’s robes three times a year, depending on the season – summer, winter, and rainy seasons.
Erawan Shrine – This shrine is right in the heart of Bangkok and directly off of a busy intersection near a shopping area. Despite its hectic location, there are countless people who come to worship at the shrine and hope that their prayers will be answered. Don’t hesitate to buy a ring of flowers to lay at the base of the shrine and ask for a wish to come true! There are also traditional Thai dancers who people pay a little extra for, in order to hope their prayer will be answered. What do you have to lose?! Delve into the culture and enjoy the journey…
Octave Lounge & Bar – If you want a view of the city at sunset go to the Octave Bar. You will get a 360 degree panoramic view of the city and its hustling streets. As the sun sets and the lights of the city turn on, enjoy a beverage or a bite to eat while being on top of the city. Lucky for me, it was conveniently situated at the top of the Marriott Sukhumvit Hotel, so I didn’t have far to go.
After a couple of days taking in the sights and sounds of Bangkok, you’ll be ready for a more relaxing scene. What better place to relax than at the beach! So head south to Phuket for more culture and even more beauty.
Take me to the Beach!
There are direct in country flights from Bangkok to Phuket. The flight is about an hour long and will cost you under $100 roundtrip. If your hotel doesn’t provide transportation from the airport once you land, I would try to arrange something before you get there. If not, you won’t be stranded as there are people willing to pick up an extra ride. Just be aware, taxi services in Phuket can be pricey!
Where to stay
This really depends on the type of vacation you are looking for. If you are looking to be in the middle of it all with activities and parties day and night then Patong Beach is the area for you. If you are looking to stay on the beach, but have the more relaxing vibes surround you, then the boutique hotels around Cape Panwa is the spot to be.
I stayed at My Beach Resort and had a view of Big Buddha, a private pool, and an amazing sunset overlooking the bay for 5 whole days. The staff was so hospitable and had an array of wonderful food for breakfast and dinner. There was nothing better than watching the sky turn into a kaleidoscope of pinks, oranges, and purples while staring up at Big Buddha from his mountain top while sitting on the beach or poolside.
You don’t have to go far to search for a great quality massage. Within a 5 minute walk from the hotel there are multiple spas to choose from. My favorite was Chill Spa which was family operated. Staying in Phuket for a few days you can try a new massage every day. Go for a 90 minute full body massage one day, then the next do an hour long foot massage. No matter what you choose, the only thing you’ll regret is not being able to do the massages back home as often. Besides feeling absolutely amazing, the Thai family running the spa were the happiest and friendliest people. While getting a foot massage a couple of the ladies began talking to me and we tried to carry on a conversation for a good 30 minutes with lots of hand gestures and smiles. After our friendly conversation, they decided to make me some tea and offered me some fresh lychee (which are my favorite) and mango to snack on, all while still getting pampered. I felt like I was a part of their family by the time I left.
What to see and do
Wat Chalong – The first thing you notice about Wat Chalong is how vibrant the reds andgolds are. As you enter the main temple building where 3 buddha statues sit, the first thing you notice is how gold they are. The tradition is to add to the plethora of gold leaves covering the statues, while respectfully visiting the temple. It is said, that while you place a gold leaf on the buddha and make a wish, your wish will come true. If it comes true, you must come back to the temple to set off firecrackers as a way to say thank you to Buddha. It is very common to hear multiple firecrackers going off while there, so it must be true!
Big Buddha – Sitting at roughly 147 feet tall, Big Buddha offers panoramic views and sweeping vistas of the island. As you get closer to the statue, you marvel at its grandiosity and peacefulness at the top. The statue is layered with beautiful white jade marble that sparkles in the sun. While walking around you will hear birds chirping and the sounds of thousands of thin gold leaves acting as wind chimes as the wind passes through them. Each gold leaf is left by a visitor who writes a message on the leaf in hopes that the good spirit of the Buddhists who live in the temple and the winds will bring peace and gratitude.
Elephant Sanctuary – If you have ever wanted to play with elephants for a day in their (somewhat) natural habitat then this is the place for you! You can decide to do a morning or afternoon visit, but I feel a morning visit is the best time to go as they are nice and hungry after their night’s slumber. The nice thing is that the sanctuary will arrange a pick-up time for you from your hotel so all you have to worry about is remembering your camera and bathing suit.
As soon as you arrive, you are bound to run into a couple elephants greeting you at the entrance and just begging you to feed them. Don’t be afraid to hop in there and pick up a sugar cane that is on the ground to offer them. You may even get a nice elephant trunk kiss at the same time! Watching them maneuver their trunks to pick things up and search for things on the ground is mesmerizing. After a brief introduction and setting of rules, visitors are asked to bring buckets of bananas, corn, and watermelon up to where the gentle giants are waiting patiently. Take advantage of their gentleness and give them hugs and kisses as much as they will let you. If you’re lucky enough, you may even be able to play with a baby elephant who is still learning his rank and being quite mischievous.
After feed time, it is mud bath time! The mud is thick, squishy, and somewhat slimy, but if you don’t get in there, then the Thai workers will playfully force you in by plastering mud all over your back when you’re not looking! Once you get over the unusual feeling of being covered in mud, rubbing it all over the elephants’ tough leathery skin is so much fun. But the fun doesn’t stop with the mud, because it has to come off; so off to the watering hole we all go. This doesn’t only allow you the opportunity to get slightly cleaner, but you get to be in the water while the elephants roll and swim in pure joy. You get the opportunity to be at their eye level and to the point where you could practically lay on their back. Just be aware of their feet under the muddy waters. Someone did get stepped on by an elephant foot and did a little damage to a toe…but what a great story for when you get home!?
The entire experience of spending time with these gorgeous creatures gives you a glimpse into how smart and gentle they really are. If you are an animal lover this will be an experience you will never forget.
Old Phuket Town – Another area rich in history is Old Phuket Town where you will see a European, specifically Portuguese, influence in the architecture throughout the streets. History tells of Europeans who were invited to the area, as it used to be an old tin-mining country. Most of the buildings now have been transformed into shops, restaurants, and hotels/hostels so there is plenty to see while walking the streets. You can’t go wrong with any Thai dish, but don’t forget to eat as much sticky rice with mango as possible!
Phi Phi Islands – Last but not least, you can’t visit Phuket without spending at least 1 day (try to do 2-3 if possible) island hopping around the Phi Phi Islands. It’ll take about an hour to get to your first stop, so find a good spot on the boat and just gaze at the towering limestone mountains that seem to sprout from the water all around you. You will have multiple stops throughout your day to include snorkeling, Maya Bay, where The Beach was filmed, Monkey Island, some caves where Vikings left their mark, and more. My personal favorite spot was snorkeling among the colorful ocean fish and creatures, and walking along the white powdery beaches. Spend as much time snorkeling and don’t be afraid to wander from the boat…you never know what you may come across. Underwater you will see vibrant schools of fish, and coral of all colors; and if you’re lucky maybe you’ll even spot some clown fish or Nemos as one of the guides shouted out! The water is the clearest of blues and aqua greens I have ever seen. Pair the emerald waters with the pearly white beach and you have an image of a beach from your dreams. At each stop, be sure to take the time to really soak up your surroundings and the beauty of nature. It’s not everyday you get to wade in water and lie on beaches that are as incredibly beautiful as these.
The hospitality of the Thai people, the rich culture, and the natural beauty of Thailand is the reason for this country to be a top travel destination. I was lucky to end my trip to Thailand with a yoga session overlooking the majestic bay from the My Beach Resort, and it is one vinyasa I will not soon forget. Michelle Ruiz, our travel and yogi guide, offered a deep stretch and a mindfulness yoga practice in a lounge that had glass doors fully open to the outside elements and fresh breeze coming through. In the distance, a rain cloud was slowly approaching and the temperature quickly dropped a few degrees. Then just like that…it began pouring. Despite the gentle rain, my warrior poses stayed strong. It wasn’t until the end of our yoga session, while in savasana, that I was fully drenched. The raindrops soaked my entire body and while in my state of gratitude I took this as a sign that Thailand was thanking me for the visit and asking me to return soon.
Kob-khun ka – Thank you!