Phuket – Day 2

Phuket – Day 2

6:45 AM wake up for our sea-canoe adventure! While there was a hint of sunshine in the morning, the monsoons were not shy and we needed our rain jackets and umbrellas just to get to breakfast. The Slate‘s Tin Mine restaurant had, hands down, the fluffiest, light as a cloud pancakes I’ve ever eaten! The bacon was nice and crispy too and, I have to say, the breakfasts at So Sofitel and The Slate in Phuket have been the best I’ve experienced.

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After we had our fill at the buffet, we grabbed beach towels and hopped on our transport to the Royal Marina for our sea-canoe adventure! The drive was about 45-minutes and our driver was a traffic pro, maneuvering quickly through the crowded roads. We pulled up to this beautiful marina with luxury, magazine worthy condo’s and lots of speed boats. We had tea and coffee during our short wait before we were quickly ushered to our boat. There were about 30 people on our speed boat to James Bond Island but it was still pretty roomy. Speeding through the islands led to some amazing views…

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About 30 minutes later, we pulled up to an island to join the 6 other speed boats already docked. Even with all of the people and boats, the islands were beautiful. We climbed up and drown a rocky path to get to the main event, the James Bond Island view.

The beach facing James Bond was packed with people, but I have to admit, the oblong shaped island sticking out of the water was pretty cool.

The beach used for viewing James Bond was jammed packed with tourist shops and tourists walking around. They really try to get you coming and going on these pit stops – unfortunate since it ruins the experience a bit. If you do not like crowds and want more a of a serene experience, I would suggest finding private tours to other islands – James Bond was cool but I would opt for a less crowded experience next time.

After about 40 minutes on the island, we were transferred over to a floating fishing village. All 2,000 inhabitants live on buildings that hover over the water on concrete stilts. In theory, it was a neat place, but the experience was again tainted by tourism. We pulled up and there were large pavilions with the capacity to host hundreds of people for at lunch buffets. We thought we were eating with locals and seeing something organic to the area, but it was not so. After a less-than-average lunch of coconut fried chicken, noodles, and rice, we walked through the village corridors to the boat pick-up area and it started to downpour!

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Everyone was getting totally soaked and there was no end in sight to the torrential rain coming down. Ryan and I put on the rain jacket and poncho we had packed, and the guides gave ponchos to everyone else . It was actually pretty fun to run through the small alleyways, dodging the waterfalls coming down from the drainpipes. We hurried to our speedboat and climbed aboard, hoping the rain would subside before we at our next stop for sea-canoeing.

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Fortunately for us, the rain dissipated as soon as we go to the canoeing area! We docked next to a larger pontoon boat that stored the canoes. Each group of two people were put into a boat with a paddler, so Ryan and I hopped on a canoe together and were taken for a lovely ride through a lagoon area with caves all along the bottom of the giant rock mountains.

Our canoe guide took us into caves and, at certain points, the stalactites were so low we had to lay down in the boat as not to hit our heads on the rocks! Talk about a tight squeeze! We paddled into some beautiful cavernous areas with tons of greenery and open skylight tops. It was such an amazing experience and it made me nostalgic for the sea-kayaking we did in Alaska.

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The guide also pointed out various stalactites and stalagmites that looked like different animals and figures. It started to sprinkling again and our guide kept us close to the rocky over-hangs to keep us dry. Overall, we were out on the water for about 45 minutes trying to take in the beauty of the area.

We were filed back onto the pontoon for some fruit and beverages and then back onboard our boat to head to a beach for sand and sun. Yet again, the weather had different plans and, after about 15 minutes the sky turned black and it was pouring. We went under an awning for shelter and watched the wind play wave-bumper cars with 4 of the speed boats closely parked next to each other. The boats were tossing and turning in the waves and you could hear them crashing into one another. We definitely bonded with our fellow boat mates with all of the craziness of the weather throughout the day and laughed as we ran through the rain to hop back onto our boat once the waves calmed down.

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We looked like wet dogs getting off of the boat back onto the dock, in our jeep back to the hotel, and from the hotel lobby to our door. Boy did it feel good to get dry! I am so glad we packed our waterproof gear – it really came in handy. I also had a waterproof carrying case for my phone which saved its life multiple times throughout the trip from mud, rain, and other catastrophes. I highly recommend packing one just in case your adventures take a damp turn.

After washing up at the hotel, we decided to take a stroll along the beach and find some street food. There were tons of places outside of the hotel that were 1/3 of the price of the hotel restaurants, and we set off to find a restaurant that the bar tenders at our hotel told us all of the locals loved. After browsing through local shops, getting desert snacks at a convenience store, and walking to the end of the main street, we stumbled across our restaurant destination. For under $10 USD, we had some delicious pad thai, fried large noodles with pork, mango shakes, all with a waterfront view! Not too bad if you ask me.

We did a little more walking after dinner and then, exhausted from the day, we went to bed…. at 8:30 PM.

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Phuket – Day 1

6:45 AM wake up to get ready to fly to Phuket! We had a yummy breakfast of jasmine tea, banana waffles, and eggs Benedict and then hopped into our taxi for the airport. The airports in Thailand are super-efficient and, after a 15 minute ride to the airport, we were at the terminal waiting area in under 10 minutes. I journaled the majority of the 2 hour plane ride to Phuket. It was an easy flight and went pretty quickly, especially since the plane was only 50% full so we had room to spread out.

The Phuket airport was small. We were off the plane and looking for a cab in 10 minutes. We got to the first taxi station and they wanted 500 BHT for the 15 minutes drive to The Slate hotel – way too high considering we paid 350 for the 40 minute drive from our hotel to BKK in Bangkok! We decided to try the next taxi stand outside and the guy the approached us first wanted 850 BHT to get to the hotel – no way! We told him the woman inside wanted 300 and started to walk away, so he caved and said 300 was OK. Geesh!

The roads in Thailand are quite deceiving. Both the Rachamankha Hotel in Chiang Mai and The Slate hotel in Phuket were down very sketchy roads, but once inside, an Eden awaited! The Slate hotel was gorgeous and we were greeted with cold towels and tea while we checked in. So refreshing in such humidity! Our check-in hostess took us through the grounds in a golf cart, showing us the beach areas, the various pools, restaurants, and gardens on the way to our room.

We finally made it to our building – the grounds were quite massive and maze-like. Our hostess led us to the second floor and opened the door to an amazing suite! We even had a day-bed and a huge tub on the balcony overlooking a garden and one of the pools. So beautiful!

We decided to walk around the grounds and get some lunch. We went to the Dirty Monstera restaurant at the resort for a celebratory drink, sandwich, and ahi tuna flatbread. It was so light and delicious which was much-needed with all of the heavy pad thai we had been eating.

After lunch, we walked down to the beach. It was so windy we were almost swept away (not exaggerating – it was intense!). There were markets all along the beach road but they were closed due to the strong winds and rain. Instead of staying at the beach, we went to the hotel pool across from our room. We were the only ones there due to the rain, so we swam up to the covered pool bar for a drink and some Connect Four. I totally owned Ryan at Connect Four and so we started talking with the two bar tenders instead. We ended up chatting with them and drinking for about two hours until the bar closed and we went back to the room.

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The sky decided to open up and for a complete downpour. Stuck in our room, we drew the bath on our covered patio and relaxed in the water with the rain. So luxurious, especially with the sound of the monsoon rain.  It poured for hours and, eventually, we had to call down to the lobby for an extra umbrella so we could walk the grounds to the lobby area for dinner. Even with the extra cover, we got totally soaked on the 5 minute, uncovered walk over to the Tin Mine restaurant. The restaurant was outside under a large pavilion and was candle lit. It was very romantic with the rain in the back ground. We had a lovely dinner of samosa appetizers, and a duck with mushrooms entrée. Yumm! After dinner, we braved the rain back to the hotel and got a very early night.

Chiang Mai – Day 2

Chiang Mai – Day 2

Today marked the day I was most looking forward to for the entire trip – our day with elephants! We had a 3-course breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, thai soup, and banana pancakes at the hotel with the most amazing orange juice I’ve ever had, and then we met our transport at 8 AM outside of the hotel to head to the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. We climbed into the back of the truck bed which had some covered bench seats and were pretty crammed in there as we picked up another 7 people.

We sat across from 2 Canadians who quit their jobs and were traveling for months through Asia and were going to end in Australia. They were really nice and we had great conversations about our travel adventures over the two hours it took to get to the jungle. We bonded even more as it started to downpour while we drove and we got soaked! We were driving up very windy mountain roads and eventually turned off onto a mud path that went almost straight down. Not only was it muddy, but the heavy monsoon rains had turned the dirt road into a part mud-slide, part river! We were scared out of our wits that we were going to slide off the 4 inches we had between the roadside and cliff. It definitely reminded me of the crazy ride I had up a jungle volcano in Guatemala – just as scary, but knowing how we survived that ride, I had faith we would somehow survive this one.

We eventually stopped on the path and parked. The drivers made us get out of the truck and the rains subsided for about 10 minutes during our hike down the very muddy forest path. We had to forge through a waterfall and go over some very small wooden bridges before the sky’s faucet decided to turn back on and drench us again. Talk about an incredibly fun hike! It was gloriously muddy so why not just embrace the monsoon season – when in Rome right?

We finally came upon a long, dry, and inviting wooden hut. Our guides gave us shirts to change into that had big pockets to hold bananas for the elephants. The rains held-off as we walked up and back down a hill into a valley where the elephants were! They were so majestic! There were three adult females, one was 55 years old, and three toddlers that were between 2 and 4 years old.

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We walked up to them and said “bon bon” to tell them we had bananas. The elephants were all about the bananas, knew where our pockets were and kept trying to stick their trunks into our pockets to grab more bananas. It was so cute and just goes to show how smart they are…

The tip of the elephant’s trunks was soft but the rest of their skin was very hard and leathery. They were also covered in 2-inch long, black hairs that stuck straight out. The hairs flung mud everywhere when you tried to pet the elephants, but I didn’t care and I got mud all over the place. We fed the elephants all of the bananas we could and then the guides took all of the guys back up the mountain to bring down what looked to be bamboo shoots for the elephants to eat. Boy do they eat a lot! We fed the elephants for about an hour before they took off up the hill towards the huts. We followed them and washed off at some water hoses overlooking the waterfall.

Our lunch of stir fried veggies, chicken wings, and fried rice was waiting for us after we got cleaned up and we ate lunch while watching the elephants swim in the rapids under the waterfall. I don’t know if I will ever be able to top that lunch experience.

Watching the elephants play in the river at the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary outside of Chiang Mai, Thailand

We chatted with our fellow tourists, some from Chili, Spain, Canada, and Belgium. They were all really friendly and we swapped stories and talked about world politics. It is always interesting to hear other opinions about world events, especially those from different countries. All of them had similar views on our Donald Trump situation, and we talked about the differences in Texan accents and view points from Texans in cities vs. the more rural country side. All of the people we talked with seemed very down to earth and worldly.

We moved to the edge of the hut and watched the elephants frolic in the water and up the hillside for a while. One of the baby elephants decided to come say hi, despite his handlers best attempt to lure him away, stepped carefully over the fence, and scratched his bum on the mud right in front of us. It was super cute. Eventually, the handler got some bananas and persuaded the elephant back down the mountain to the rest of the pack.

Baby elephant joining us for lunch at the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary outside of Chiang Mai, Thailand
Our guide told us it was time to make the elephants a snack of rice and banana balls, so we helped make those and then got into our swim suits to head down the muddy path to the mud bath area. All of the elephants were delighted at the banana ball treats and, after feeding them, we smeared mud all over the elephants. Our guides picked up piles of mud and threw it on us to get everyone into the experience! The mud was so deep that my legs sunk until the mud was at my knees and we got covered just like the elephants. The only thing I did not like about the whole day was that the guides were yelling a lot during the mud bath time to get everyone excited and were throwing mud around, some of which got in my eye. Also, one of the guides kept running up to the guys to rub mud on them in a bit too-touchy-feely kind of way. *Shoulder shrug* – but, other than that, it was a bunch of fun!

Once we were basically covered in brown, we all headed to the river to wash off the elephants. Since the monsoon rains were so heavy in the morning, the river was rushing and was too strong for us to full get in the river, so we stayed on the banks. It was still a blast to splash around with the elephants and watch them roll around in the water. The babies were especially playful and would fully submerge themselves by laying on their sides under the water. I could have stayed and watched them there for hours and hours.

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The experience ended waaay to quickly and we headed back up to the hut to wash off and dry off in the sun for a few minutes. We had some tea and cookies while drying and one of the guides told us that the guide who had been rubbing mud all over the guys earlier had a girlfriend who was a lady-boy. I totally knew it! The guides were saying some pretty crude things about each other which was surprising but really entertaining. Got to love a good culture shock!

Once we dried up, we hiked back up the path to the truck. The rainfall from other areas converged at the waterfall, turning it into a super strong rapid that we wouldn’t dare cross, so we had to take a different path back to the truck. It was all uphill and a bit of a workout! Our guides kept stopping to pick flowers and were being very playful – a very strange but fun pair.

One the plus side, the jungle road had dried up. There was no way the truck could have driven up that slippery, muddy mess of a path we drive down to get to the Sanctuary. Once we got piled into the truck, however, we realized it was taking a while for our guides to start the truck. I looked out the window and saw our guides flinging wrenches in the air while pointing under the lifted hood of the truck. I couldn’t imagine getting stuck in such a remote part of the jungle in monsoon season!

It turned out the carburetor wouldn’t start so we all had to get out and push the truck backwards up the hill so our driver could turn downwards and get momentum to spark the engine. Thankfully, we had 4 strong guys and all of us girls / lady like guides to push the truck. It took about 15 minutes to get it turned around and the driver kept yelling about break problems (not a funny joke!) but we finally got the engine started. Crisis averted! We barely made it back up the mountain path and there was quite a communal sigh of relief once we made it to the main road. All-in-all, with the mountain issues and traffic back in Chiang Mai, it took about 2 hours of driving and good conversation to get back to the Rachamankha Hotel.

My sneakers and clothes were totally covered in mud so I tried to wash all of as much as possible. Re-wearing clothes in Thailand sounds like a good idea, but between the tours where you get super muddy and all of the humidity, there is no way you can re-wear anything without washing it thoroughly first.

Anyways, we got cleaned up and then took off to find something quick for dinner. Street food was insanely cheap compared to our hotel. Per the recommendation of one of our Canadian tour mates, we tried some street grilled pork and friend wontons for 10 BHT total ($0.30 USD) which was amazing! We then found a little restaurant and I ordered “the best noodles in Chiang Mai”, Khao Soi, to try something different. Gosh was it good! It was like a chicken curry with thick ramen type noodles. Ryan’s Pad Thai was also scrumptious and, in total, our 2 entrees, spring rolls, and two drinks were 200 BTH – $7 USD! While we opted for nice hotels on this trip, our fellow elephant tour friends were staying in nice hostels that were $4 USD per night and living on about $20 a day. It is amazing how different the costs are in Thailand!

A delicious dinner in Chiang Mai, Thailand

My mud inflicted eye was really starting to bug me at this point. I was really afraid I had gotten pink eye or something from the elephant park mud that had flown into it earlier in the day and needed to flush it out more with eye drops and water. We walked back to the hotel so I could do so, and then relaxed by the pool listening to the birds before heading to bed.

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai, Thailand

Another early wake up to catch our flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai! We hopped in a cab and it took about 40 minutes to get to BKK airport. About 10 minutes before we arrived, we noticed our taxi’s meter was off. The last I saw, it was at 197 BHT for our trip, and by the time we arrived and pointed this out to the driver, he tapped the meter and demanded 400 BTH for the ride. There was no way the fair doubled in the 10 minutes the meter was off, so I told him I would only pay 350. He agreed but then refused to give me change for my 1,000 BHT bills. He started to ignore us and look everywhere but at us and would not talk to us either! I ended up having to go into the airport, to the exchange counter, and get them to give me smaller bills so that we could pay the cabbie. I was so mad and worried we wouldn’t have enough time to catch our flight since we had about an hour before boarding.

Check-in was actually a breeze since Thai Smile airlines had different counters for each flight and there was almost no line in security. Phew! We found our gate and then walked back to the food court area. Ryan got Dunkin’ Donuts, which I initially scoffed at since it’s so American, but he bought a cookie dough doughnut and I couldn’t resist a bite of that heaven! Since I hadn’t had it yet, I got some Pad Thai and mango sticky rice. It was pretty decent but I was still excited to try the local street Pad Thai outside of an airport.

We walked to the gate and it was so quite! Talk about the cleanest and easiest airport experience. Everyone at the gate was very friendly and we boarded with ease. We took off and I got out my laptop to blog. The stewardess brought by water and this delicious curry burrito thing as a snack. I was already sooo full but had to at least taste test….
Curry burrito on Thai Smile Airways

I just started journaling and we started to descend. I think the whole flight lasted an hour. We were quick to the gate and at the hotel within 45 minutes of landing! Our hotel, Rachamankha, was a piece of paradise in the middle of the city. We walked into a quite corridor of white buildings with beautiful gardens – so tranquil!

Our room was not yet ready so we talked to the front office attendant and he suggested some temples to go see while we waited. He also asked us which elephant tour we were planning on doing the next day and flinched a bit when we told him the one we booked, Chang Dao. We asked him why he reacted the way he did and he said something about it being far away, but I was a bit skeptical that that was the real reason.

With our map in hand, we took off walking to discover the temples of Chiang Mai. There were plenty. We came across our first within 5 minutes and realized that there was some type of monk ceremony going on so we decided not to interrupt in the main temple but walk the grounds to the other parts of the temple. The sun was blaring down on us and, despite being 80 degrees, the intense humidity was rough. We walked through some of the other buildings and the addition of my scarf made the heat double. Needless to say, we needed to hydrate.

We walked to another temple and through the buildings there until we couldn’t take the heat anymore. We found an internet café nearby and ordered some Thai tea and water. While there, we used the free Wi-Fi and discovered that, since I booked the Chang Dao elephant excursion, there were many negative reviews about how the elephants were treated and that the center used chairs to ride the elephants which is not good for the elephants. I felt really bad reading all of the reviews and we decided to cancel our tour with that company and find another one that was better to the elephants. The worst thing would be to travel 1.5 hours and watch elephants get mistreated.

We headed back to the hotel so that they could help us switch our tours and stopped at a few other temples along the way.

After wandering, we quickly realized our map was completely useless. While it had all of the landmarks on it, it was missing about 90% of the street names and we got super, duper lost. We walked for about an hour, stopping to have some locals point to our location on the map, most of whom couldn’t figure it out! How do you have a map that the locals can’t even use?! We were getting pretty grumpy in the heat, frustrated with the map, and a swampy kind of sweaty which just made things worse – yuck! We finally stopped at an internet café and Ryan pulled up Google maps which showed us we were about a block from our hotel. The hotel was down a side street which made things tricky but, by 2 PM, we finally made it back! Our room was ready and the receptionist booked us for a tour at the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. I was so relieved but the Chang Dao place refused to give us a refund so I need to check with my bank to see if my travel insurance will cover the difference (fingers crossed).

After a much-needed shower and (more) Pad Thai for lunch at the hotel, we decided to find a massage place. The hotel massages were about double what we could find on the street, so we decided on this place called Lilia and screen grabbed the walking directions in Google Maps. It was about a 5-minute walk and there was supposed to be a large sign pointing to the spa when we got there. Instead, there was a dingy looking places called “Lalia” instead of “Lilia” which, I had a hunch, did the type of massage we did not want. Ryan was pretty frustrated with me after getting so lost twice now and now finding a massage place which I refused to enter, so we headed back. Thankfully, we came across a much better looking massage place about a block away that had hour-long massages for 500 BHT per person – about $12. We decided to stop there and left our shoes outside the door with everyone else’s to enter. We were given tea, had our feet cleaned, and then we were lead up 4 flights of stairs by a lady who only had 8 toes. Just like in Bangkok, we were given these really funny, stretchy, throw-away undies to change into and boy did they look strange. For 500 BHT, the place was very clean and the massages were quite nice and much needed.

The massages definitely put us in a better mood. We had some more tea on the way out and headed back to the hotel. We had a quick nap and I put on my extremely comfy and new purple elephant pants to explore the night market. We took a cab for 150 BHT ($5) to the market and were amazed at its size! It went on forever inside this giant pavilion and had everything you could want to buy. We were getting hungry and went to to the food court which was so overwhelming with the amount of vendors and options they had. Ryan got a smoothie and I ended up getting Chicken Tikka Masala which was super oily so I only ate the chicken. A bit disappointing but it was only 100 BTH ($3ish) so oh well.

We continued to walk and bought gifts for family from the different markets. Boy to I like to haggle for a good deal! There was also a cabaret show and the lady boys were performing in the streets which was interesting to see to say the least. We walked for about an hour before we called a tuktuk to head back to the hotel. Our tuktuk driver was a speed demon and our hair was flying everywhere as he zoomed down the back alley ways. Tuktuks are by far my favorite mode of transportation here and we are going to be riding in the almost more throughout the trip!

Bangkok – Day 2

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We woke up naturally at 5:30 AM since our body clocks were so out of whack. That actually worked out perfectly because we had enough time to visit the hotel’s breakfast buffet for a fantastic breakfast before we met Kiwi for our 7 AM tour pick up time.Breakfast at the So Sofitel Hotel in Bangkok Thailand

We hopped into the Jeep with our guide and driver and it took about an hour for us to turn off the highway for our first stop. Our nerves heightened as we drove under the highway, past some very sketchy looking food stands, to basically a small wooden train station dock. The area was so sparse and the train ride was not on our itinerary so Ryan and I were a bit worried as we got out of the car, but we trusted Kiwi and she promised that the experience we were about to have was worth it. Apparently, our driver was the lead coordinator of transportation for Tour with Tong and he suggested we make the extra stop since we had time. He was super nice to do so because the tour service usually charged extra for the train market tour stop. Anyways, we waited for about 15 minutes for the train to come and Kiwi directed us to the very end cart. She talked with the conductor and we got to sit in the conductor booth at the very end of the train. We thought we did that just for pictures, but it was for something much cooler!

The Maeklong Train Market is literally a market on the train tracks. All of the tents fold back to make way for the train that comes through every 30 minutes, and then immediately go back into place for the sellers to keep selling their produce which literally sits in the train tracks! We got such a cool view of the train speeding by the market and all of the tents going back into place by sitting at the back of the train!

We ended up getting off of the train at the market so we could walk through. You could buy almost any type of meat, seafood, vegetable, or fruit imaginable in the market. The market was basically a single file line in each direction since it was so narrow and Ryan almost got pick pocketed being in such close proximity to all of the people around! He was also way too tall and had to duck. We only walked about a block within the market before it became to claustrophobic for us to go through anymore. Still a really neat thing to experience!

We walked through the streets, found our driver, and took off to Damnoen Saduak floating market. It was about another 30 minutes in the car before we arrived and we parked within the market. Kiwi knew tons of people at the locations we stopped at, and brought us to a certain market stand where we would get the best prices on merchandise. The lady who owned the shop said she had been working with Tong from our tour service for over 20 years and encouraged us to go see if we found better prices on the river for anything she sold. We decided to do so and walked down to our market boat.

We had a little old lady as our paddler but boy was she strong – we had some serious speed going through the market! Both sides of the market were lined with shops and there were tons of boats selling all types of food. Kiwi knew all of the best tasting food vendors and encouraged us to try spring rolls, coconut ice cream, and mango sticky rice. The spring rolls were delicious and the ice cream was so decadent! We saved the rice for the next car ride and keep floating through. I was super glad both of us had hats as the sun was very strong and it was hot and muggy. We paddled through a bunch of canals and saw one with some interesting art. After quite a bit of haggling on my part, Ryan and I ended up buying a very pretty canvas painting of an elephant for our apartment. Kiwi was impressed (?) by my haggling skills and kept laughing as I tried to drive the price lower. While the guy would go to my “highest price” of 1,100 BHT, I ended up caving at 1,200 BTH – a whole $3 difference! He rolled up the painting so we could travel home with it and we took off through the market for some more browsing.

We didn’t end up seeing anything better than what was at Kiwi’s friend’s booth, so we stopped there to get some tea cups and a tank top. They gave us a very fair price and were really nice. With our goodies in hand, we hopped back in the car and indulged in our sticky rice on the way to the speed boat that was to take us to see the monkeys. Let me tell you, mango sticky rice is AMAZING! It is basically like a desert and I could have eaten bowls and bowls of it. We also stopped off got some Thai Tea at Kiwi’s insistence which was also delicious. I wish we had more of these things in the States!

We made one last stop before getting to the speed boat for some fruit for the monkeys. The bananas at the fruit stand were too ripe, so we got 4 huge bags of this potato looking fruit that the shop owner hacked up into pieces for us. Our driver also got us some coconuts to drink, one was a raw coconut and the other had been grilled. The grilled coconut milk was much sweeter and we both like the raw milk a bit more.

Anyways, we finally arrived at this very colorful housing area to transfer to our boat and use the loo. For most places in Thailand, you have to bring your own toilet paper and the majority of toilets, especially for men, are just holes in the ground. While I was able to find actual toilets to use, it made for an interesting experience for Ryan….

We hopped in the boat and took off to down the river. The description of the tour was not very robust online (literally just said “monkey island”) so we did not know what to expect. We saw some very large water monitors right off the bat and thousands of crabs lining all of the beaches. It was low-tide so there were mudskippers cruising through the muddy beaches and some were 6-inches long. We left the inlet into the ocean and all of the beaches were lined with sticks which indicated each cockle shell farmer’s land. The farmers also had these really high huts to sleep in at night to watch their property and make sure no other farmer infringed on their shells.

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We stopped at one of the high huts to drop off our lunch and then headed out further into the ocean. The lines of stick fences went on for miles and we eventually got to a section of higher sticks that held oysters. It was super cool! There were mini crabs all over the oysters during the low tide and we held some that really tickled!

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Our next stop was to an inlet to find some monkeys. As soon as we started driving into the small river inlet, Kiwi and our boat driver made us start howling to call out the monkeys. It was so weird and I felt awkward making those noises until hordes of monkeys started to line the shores! There were lots of mom monkeys with babies on their back, medium monkeys, and then the big alpha-males that were quite aggressive if another went for their food. We threw the potato-like fruit out to them and then closer in the water to draw them nearer. Eventually, we set the fruit right on the side of the boat and the monkeys would hop up next to us on the boat! I even handed them fruit! The monkeys were super muddy and they would jump off the boat quickly and their tails flung mud all over us. I was covered! It was so gross but we were having too much fun to stop. At one point, an alpha-male monkey jumped on the boat and tried to take off with Ryan’s bag of fruit, Ryan tried to grab it back and the monkey almost tried to fight him! Eekk! We let him have it, he hopped off, and our driver used a stick to ward off the bigger monkeys from jumping on board and causing trouble. From then on, a lot of mom and baby monkeys hung out with us on the boat – so cute! Eventually, we ran out of food and had to leave, but it was by far one of the best experiences of my life.

We got out of the jetty and headed back to the hut to eat lunch. After washing up, we had quite a spread of grilled crab, curry, baked fish, veggies, and more. It was quite a delicious lunch with an outstanding view! We didn’t eat too much since we had a large dinner coming our way and so the staff ate the rest of what we didn’t touch.

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After lunch it was sadly time to head back. We had about a 1.5-hour drive back to Bangkok and it was a good time to rest up before the night’s activities. We stopped at an ATM to pay Kiwi and our driver and I almost left my debit card in the ATM – ahh! Thankfully Kiwi alerted me and I grabbed it. We said our good-byes at the hotel and headed up for a much shower. I have to say, we could not have booked with a better service than with Tour with Tong and our guide Kiwi!

Due to the monkey mud, it was time for a much needed shower before our dinner at Gaggan! I first heard about Gaggan through an episode of Chef’s Table, a Netflix original series that documents top chefs throughout the world. Gaggan and his restaurant were voted the best in Asian in 2015 and his elevated take on Indian food was not to be missed while we were staying in Bangkok, especially since it was right across the park from our hotel! We headed off to our 6 PM reservation and were surprised to be taken upstairs under the atrium to a mini-kitchen. We were picked at random with some other diners from all over the world to test Gaggan’s new concept where the sous chef and team prep the dishes in front of us! What a treat and so unexpected! We started the night with a delicious Thai-jito and got to know some of the chefs. One was an American from Miami and was so delighted to talk football with a fellow American football fanatic, Ryan. We had a great banter back and forth as the 18 courses started to flow.

The first 1o courses came out in a rapid fire style, one quickly after another, and the Indian flavor profiles exploded onto the scene almost immediately after each item was placed in our mouths. Not only that, but the plating was amazing.

The wine started to flow as we got into the main courses, consisting of increadable flavors, textures, and the most tender lamb chop I have ever eaten ….

During the desert courses, Gaggan himself joined us upstairs and let us try this new dish he was preparing for his new menu that replaced what we had in the very next week! We tried this amazing chicken stock soup type cracker that was out of this world. Gaggan talked with all of the guests and was quite a character, just like his fellow chefs.

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After we had our fill, we said goodbye to our new chef friends and some of the other diners we made friends with throughout the experience. This definitely went down as one of the best dinners I have ever had!

We went back to the hotel and, while I had every intention of visiting another night market, sleep called my name and our 6 AM wake up for our flight to Chiang Mai the next morning dictated that some Zzz’s were in order.