Another lengthy bus ride landed us in the middle of rush hour Bangkok traffic, quite a distance from our hostel. We opted to take a taxi to our residence for the next week, At Khaosan Hostel , instead of walking the length. Located near the infamous backpacking street Khao San Road and the night market (yet distant from the rowdiness), this hostel proved to be an excellent choice for us.
It took us a second to grasp the fact that we were now in Thailand. Busy travel schedules and border crossings seem to leave us mentally foggy and we need a little while to recalibrate. Our quick fix is to simply bring our attention back to the present moment, anchor our breath, and tune in to the environment around us. Immediately, we are brought back into the now .
After acclimating ourselves, we set off on foot to browse the tourist-filled streets of Khao San Road. Masseuses huddled in large groups, ushering foreigners in with their little English skills. Bars blasted ear-splitting pop tunes, merchants sold anything they could get their hands on (fried scorpions and tarantulas for sale!), and tuk-tuk drivers inquired of our motives and offered to take us to boom-boom , wherever that is. Never heard of it!
We enjoyed the diversity but quickly tired of the constant bar scene. Drinking ourselves into a blurry stupor isn't our cup of tea, but to each their own! Instead, we found an awesome vegan restaurant and indulged in some mango curry, planning out our next couple days.
We got an early start the next morning, heading out to see some temples under the coverage of the morning clouds. At least, that was our plan. Walking along the desolate streets, we noticed several road closures, police officers, and tents with cases of water and bananas. The occasional bicyclist would zoom past us, and we would come to learn soon that the streets were closed off in support of the Un Ai Rake bicycle ride. Led by His Majesty the King, this 39-km route throughout Bangkok was to encourage the public awareness to exercise. Although we didn't participate, it was neat seeing the city come together and stay healthy!
We ended up walking over twenty miles, exploring the streets and alleyways throughout the city. Underneath bridges, we found markets and playgrounds (but no trolls), and eventually reached the Siriraj Medical Museum. This too was closed in support of the race, so we retraced our steps through the rat-infested alleyways.
Rotten bananas were half the normal price - and we almost considered grabbing some, but decided against it. Channeling our inner hippie, we nourished our bodies with some delicious vegan cuisine instead. Chakras aligned, we headed in for the night and rested our tired bodies.
We visited the Grand Palace
The next morning, ourselves - along with at least 20 tour buses filled to the brim - crammed in to visit the Grand Palace. Once we were in line, we practically crowd-surfed to the ticket booth, from which we exchanged $15 for a slip of paper. For such a steep price, we had high expectations.
Passing through the queue and entering the palace, we were absolutely shocked. The palace itself was amazing in its own right, but the tourists... that was the highest concentration of people we've seen in one place! We could barely lift a finger, let alone snap a few photos and explore the area.
Nudging through the crowds, we were under the impression that the quantity of people would diminish soon; yet, it only increased. Finding a couple square feet of our own, we admired the intricate design and impressive architecture. A random Chinese girl took a selfie with us and then scurried away into the mass of people. Slightly confused, we toured through the entire place, leaving after around two hours time. Both introverted fellows, we were drained after so much stimulus and needed a breather.
Finding a gym not too far from our hostel, we got our exercise on for a bit. We recharged with a fried rice and vegetable dish from a street restaurant thereafter and watched the never-ending droves of tourists witness fried insects for their first time (a reaction that never gets old.) Eventually, we decided to clean up and get a move on.
We booked it to Ayutthaya
Hopping in a tuk-tuk early the following day, we cruised on over to the train station, taking another form of transport other than the bus. Grabbing a ticket bound for Ayutthaya, we found ourselves a seat and got comfortable for the next couple hours.
Reaching our stop, we exited the locomotive into the sweltering heat. A cluster of tuk-tuks awaited traveling tourists and shouted outrageous quotes, but we walked a little further and found one for a decent price. Fifteen minutes later we'd arrived at our hostel, Early Bird Hostel , and checked in.
Finding a restaurant serving some delicious vegetarian meals, we enjoyed some lunch while gazing at the ancient ruins just across the street. Finishing our meals, we paid and then went to check out the Ayutthaya Ruins.
We wandered through the Ayutthaya Ruins
Formerly the Kingdom of Siam, this city - once one of the world's largest urban centers and a site for both global diplomacy and world trade - prospered between the 14th and 18th centuries. That was, until it was burned down to the ground in the late 1700s by the Burmese military. All that remains of the ancient city is the iconic prang and Buddhist statues, which offer a glimpse into the past history of the city.
After walking through the ruins, we loafed down the streets of Ayutthaya. Finding a market nearby the ruins, we loaded up on some cheap snacks to hold us over until dinner. We also located this unique contraption - we think it might be a device to contact aliens!
Once we found a good place to get some grub, dark gray clouds began to fill the sky and the unmistakable rumble of thunder echoed around us. In an instant it was pouring! We were caught outside with one umbrella to shield us from the strong precipitation. It seemed to come up, down, and sideways, soaking us regardless of our attempt to keep dry. After a quick stop to a local store, both of us were equipped with our own umbrella and splished and sploshed our way back to the hostel for the night.
After our one-day stint in Ayutthaya, we decided to get a move on and see what the rest of Thailand had to offer. We arrived to the train station a couple hours early, leaving us sitting and observing the daily life of those around us. We sat alongside Buddhist monks draped in their infamous orange robes, made friends with the stray dogs, and watched the flux of passengers enter and exit the train.
Eventually our train had arrived, and we climbed on board. To our surprise there were only a couple people seated, but this proved to be the theme for the entire length of the nine-hour train ride. Aside from the vendors who would hop on the train with a basket of goods, ride for a couple stops, and then hop off, we basically had the train to ourselves. We had them to thank when they came by with some fried rice, fresh fruit, and drinks (in bags, by the way!) We also got this bamboo basket filled with who-knows-what. It tasted like peanuts!
For the rest of the train ride, we sat back and listened to some audiobooks and podcasts while gazing out at the beautiful Thai countryside. Not a bad view!
Arriving into Phitsanulok in the early evening hours, we exited the train to find a local food market that was just closing up. We decided to worry about the food situation a bit later and check into our hostel, Nap Corner , where we'd call home for the next two days. We were a bit restless from sitting on the train all day, so after dropping off our bags we went to scope out the nearest gym. Luckily it wasn't too far from our hostel, so we were able to get in there and knock out a quick training session.
After that, we were surely depleted and eager to get a good meal. To our dismay there were scarce options - vegetarian meals didn't seem to exist here, either. We walked all around town and found a food cart that was selling some bagged salad type thing, and it was actually quite filling. It had a boat load of veggies, fruit, and beans! We'd consider that a win.
We rested our tired bodies and woke up the next day, only to peek around and discover we were the only guests in the entire hostel. Wondering why, we did some research on Phitsanulok and realized that due to the lack of activities, backpackers would usually crash there for a night and then keep heading north toward Chiang Mai.
We actually appreciated the solitude and quiet streets of Phitsanulok so we decided to extend a day. The only issue was the food choices, or lack thereof. There were western fast-food options, food carts selling grilled meat sticks, and a pricey café in a desolate strip mall. We managed to get by, but wouldn't recommend anyone stay here simply due to the lack of quality nutrition.
After our stint in Phitsanulok, we arranged an early bus to Chiang Mai. The majority of the day was spent in transit, getting situated into Na La Da Hostel , and planning out our next few days there.
Our host at Na La Da Hostel, Bim, was very helpful with organizing our tour to Toto's Elephant Sanctuary . We actually decided on a package tour that included white-water rafting, spending time at the elephant sanctuary, and visiting the Mok Fa Waterfall. You can see the itinerary here.
After our tour, we went to the Night Bazaar to grab some food. When we arrived back to our hostel, we recieved a complimentary massage for booking a tour through them. Deciding on a Thai massage (of course), we had no idea the pain we'd endure for the next hour. Never again! It's safe to say that all of our knots and kinks were smoothed out, leaving up sleeping like babies that night.
A couple days later, we decided to take another tour to some popular tourist destinations in the area. Through the hostel again, a songthaew (a passenger vehicle in Thailand) was arranged.
We were to visit Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, Wat Umong, and Wat Pha Lat. While all the temples were magnificent in their own right, we got ripped-off big time for the tour, nearly paying triple what it'd cost if we hailed a songthaew ourselves. Lesson learned: always compare prices!
The drowsiness of the motion sickness pills kicked in quick, leaving us snoring for the entirety of the 762 turns. Stopping once for a bathroom break, we grabbed an ice cream bar and then dozed off yet again until we had arrived near the city.
The surrounding landscape was breathtaking - lush, green mountains were all around us, and the weather was cool and crisp compared to the relentless heat of the mainland. Hopping out of the van, we walked to the Slow Life Hostel , where we called home for the next few days. It was a great location, tucked away from the main drag and the traffic of the main road.
We then decided to grab some food, which was no issue at all due to the availability of cheap vegan cuisine at every corner. Pai, for those that don't know, has a reputation of being a hippie town, filled with vegetarian and vegan cuisine, yoga studios, and a relaxed, psychedelic vibe.
Speaking of psychedelics, after dinner we payed a visit to the famous Sunset Bar and enjoyed some psychonautical exploration. Walking through the night market was quite an experience, and it seemed like the design and style of the market was tailored for those states of conciousness.
The next day, we joined a half-day tour to visit the main attractions in Pai. We went to a hot spring resort, visited the Land Split, saw the Pam Bok waterfall, and witnessed the sunset at the Pai Canyon. Overall, it was a great day and we got to visit quite a bit.
Although the tour was nice, the main form of transportation around Pai was through scooters. After a lot of back-and-forth, we finally decided to conquer our fear of hopping back on a bike and rented one for the day. We got the hang of it within seconds, and were off zooming down the streets in no time!
It seems kind of silly, but the simple act of conquering our fear of riding a scooter again lifted a ton of weight off our shoulders. We ended up driving to the Tha Pai hot springs, which were natural and not man-made. The hot soak eased our bodies and minds and left us rejuvenated.
We then hopped back on our bikes and saw a sign advertising the Open Mind Center. Unaware of what it was, we walked in open-minded. We learned it was a guesthouse, restaurant, and meditation retreat. We were invited to join the meditation that afternoon with the owner, Patrick, and decided to give it a go.
We'd meditated before in the past, but never in a group setting. It was a bit odd at first, but we got used to it quickly. For the first half-hour, we hummed however we wished. We then made gestures with our hands to indicate giving and receiving energy from the universe for an hour, and then sat still for the remaining 15 minutes. It was certainly an interesting experience!
After our meditation, we enjoyed our remaining time in Pai and took advantage of some more delicious food.
We booked a van to Chiang Rai the next day, stopping at the famous White Temple for a half hour. We ended up grabbing a meal at one of the only vegan restaurant in town, Kunda, and rested our heads at Norn Nung Len that night. It was our last night in Thailand, with an early wake-up at 5AM the next day to begin our journey into Laos.