Bangkok was everything we had imagined and even more!
It is not a love at first sight: it’s dirty and chaotic, with heat that rarely drops below 30 degrees (and humidity that makes it feel twice as hot) and so much traffic that it could drive you mad. But, beneath this façade lies a city that is rich in culture, arts, and tradition, a city of senses and contrasts that we fell in love with.
Minutes from our first day out in the city, while having our first street food experience, an unexpected ceremony passed by us, with dancing dragons, colourful vests, hilarious costumes and loud cars covered in flowers. What a pleasant welcome to the country!
For us, Bangkok was all about street food, temples and, of course, Thai massages!
There are over 400 temples (or Wat, in Thai) scattered throughout the city and, as first-time visitors, we got awed at the massive gold Buddha figures, the colorful buildings and the glittering decorations like no other.
Stunning window carvings at Wat Bowonniwet Vihara
Wat Bowonniwet Vihara was the first temple we visited and we were amazed by the amount of people there paying homage to the late King’s ashes
Colourful Façades – Wat Bowonniwet Vihara
Buddha statue and detailed mural paintings – Wat Bowonniwet Vihara
Wat Pho Temple – These four large stupas (or Chedis), covered in alluring mosaic tiles, are dedicated to the first four Kings of the Chakri Dynasty
Wat Pho Temple, aka Temple of the Reclining Buddha for its 46 meter long statue depicting the Buddha’s pose at death, when he entered Nirvana.
Wat Pho Temple
Wat Pho Temple
Smaller Chedis, 71 in total, contain the ashes of members of the royal family
Monk teaching students at Wat Pho
Wat Saket (or The Golden Mount) – ring the giant bells for good luck!
Wat Saket – making a wish whilst banging the gong three times
View to Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn) from the river
River view from Wat Arun
One of the best ways to get in touch with the local culture is by visiting the local markets and eat the delicious (and cheap!) street food. We embraced this task seriously and followed our stomachs through the city’s street food scene.
Food stalls at Taling Chan Market
Taling Chan Floating Market
Houses on the river next to the floating market
On the way to one of these markets, inside a crowded bus, we decided to take our Lonely Planet out and learn some basic Thai sentences. Hello – Sà wàt dee or Thank you! – Kòrp Kun. And just next to us, a smiley face turned: Kóóóp Kuuuun Káá! And, in just a few minutes, we had the whole bus trying to teach us Thai, laughing at our pronunciation but happy to have western faces eager to learn their language.
Food stalls at Chatuchak Market
Once we got to the market, we found ourselves lost in what is known to be one of the biggest markets in the World – Chatuchak Market, home to more than 8,000 market stalls and, on a typical weekend, more than 200,000 visitors come here to sift through the goods on offer.
While rambling around the crowded place, we felt something weird happening: We were talking and laughing when we realised that the whole street had frozen. It was like being in one of those movies where time stops around you, suddenly seeing hundreds of people come to an absolute stop.
Later, we learned that everyday, at 8am and 6pm, the national anthem plays and, no matter what they are doing, every person stops, stands still and pays their respect to Thailand’s national anthem, to their King and to the country. We loved it!
Of course that, no exploration of Bangkok’s street food is complete without a trip to Chinatown which is considered the birthplace of street food in Thailand.
Stopping for lunch – China Town food stalls
China Town Market – duck was the only thing we could name in this market!
Our next stop in Thailand was Ayutthaya, one of Southeast Asia’s (and probably the world’s) most prosperous cities in the 17th Century. The Historical Park, at the heart of the city, has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1991 for its numerous magnificent ruins.
Wat Phra Si Sanphet
Wat Phra Si Sanphet
Wat Mahathat – Buddha head in the tree roots
Riverside in Ayutthaya
To add even more culture to our trip came Sukhothai – another UNESCO Heritage Historical Park filled with ruins and ancient temples. The main difference was the preservation which was definitely something that stood out in Sukhothai.
Cycling around the National Park
Nice day with Elsa, Oceáne and JB!
Beautiful views in Sukhothai
After a loud and uncomfortable night bus, a 3 hour wait at the bus station and another 3 hour drive through a windy road with a Thai girl puking every 20 minutes, we got to Pai.
Pai is a small laid-back town nestled in the mountains. The town itself has become a bit too touristy and culturally washed in our opinion but if you get a scooter, you can enjoy the surroundings which offer lovely scenic landscapes.
At the White Buddha Temple with Pierre and Isa, our friends from Portugal who happened to be travelling in Northern Thailand too!
Views to the town from the White Buddha Hill
Sliding down a waterfall
We enjoyed a serene and scenic sunset at Pai Canyon…
With sweeping valley views!
After Pai, it was the turn of Mae Hong Son. We loved everything about it – its remote setting, the peaceful rural lifestyle and the endless rolling mountains with more than 80% of virgin forests.
Exploring the surroundings by motorbike
Karen village close to the border with Burma
Dinner with a view
We had the best experience trekking for two days in the jungle of Mae Hong Son, sleeping on a two house Karen village surrounded only by the serene and verdant nature.
Our guide – a native Karen!
Monkey fooling around!
The first day was a real adventure, going up the river sometimes with water up to our hips!
The village with just an old couple and a lot of animals.
The couple lived off the land and animals. They get the water from the river and cook with fire. Close to 70 years old and they still go once a month to town to get any supplies they might need, waking up at 4am to walk 10 hours through the jungle and come back the next day. Impressive!
Waking up surrounded by buffalos!
On our way down, exhausted but happy 🙂
Survival skills – eating off a banana leaf!
After the peaceful Mae Hong Son, it was time to go to Chiang Mai. On the way there, we wanted to visit some sunflower fields which bloom only 2 weeks a year creating an amazing scenery. Luckily we were right on time!
We were told to take a bus to a small village called Khun Yuam, from there we could easily get to the sunflower fields and then travel onwards to Chaing Mai.
We arrived at Khun Yuam late at night only to find a small sleeping village under a heavy rain. Fortunately there was a hostel just next to the bus station.
The next morning we went out looking for a motorbike to visit the fields. Not only have we found out that there were no motorbikes for rent, there were also no taxis nor any other kind of transportation going there.
We tried bargaining with some locals to take us but no one spoke any english and weren’t very interested either. After giving up on the idea, we started looking for buses going to Chiang Mai. Another nightmare!! The only bus going there was going a long way around, taking 12 hours and a lot of money.
In the end we took the bus and got to Chiang Mai 2 days later than expected and exhausted!
After a good day’s rest in Chaing Mai we decided to take a Thai cooking course.
There were several options to choose from but we kind of wanted to get out of the city buzz so we went for an organic farm, one hour away from the city centre.
Smile Organic Farm Cooking School
The day started out with an early morning visit to the local market where we learned about Thai spices and ingredients.
Once we got to the farm, our cooking teacher took us around the plantations to pick some fresh veggies, fruits and flowers.
Our hilarious teacher
Picking some flowers
And finally… time to cook!!
The cooking stations
Each one of us chose 6 different dishes to cook (and eat!).
No more excuses at home now!
Rolling up a a spring roll
Yummy Pad Thai and fried vegetable spring roll
Some of the delicious dishes we cooked: Papaya Salad, Noodle Salad, Mango with sticky rice and banana in coconut milk.
At the end of the day we got a small recipe book and felt ready to cook for our family and friends back home!
Our last stop in Northern Thailand was Chiang Rai where we visited the famous and very unconventional Wat Rong Khun.
Wat Rong Khun also known as White Temple
We also took the opportunity to visit Mae Salong, a mountaintop Yunnanese chinese town at the border with Burma.
The town feels like less of a typical Thai town and more as if it belongs in Southern China. This is because, at the end of the Chinese Civil War, a group of Chinese, who wouldn’t succumb to defeat, lived nomadic lives in Myanmar. Eventually they found their way to the hilltops of Mae Salong, where they set up a village.
Chinese Martyr’s Memorial Museum
Chinese Martyr’s Memorial Museum
Mae Salong’s early history centred on the opium trade of the golden Triangle but, nowadays, all the poppy fields have been replaced by oolong tea plantations.
Visiting a tea plantation
Before we left we went for a delicious tea-tasting session where they served us tea until it came out of our ears. It was fascinating to watch all the etiquette and rituals.
From Chiang Rai we crossed the border to Laos, but that’s a whole other story! See you soon 🙂