My first official Absolute Travel trip. What better place to visit than where it all began for the company 25 years ago…Thailand (with a Cambodia add on!). I’ve dreamed of visiting Southeast Asia for as long as I can remember, so when the opportunity arose for me to check out some of Absolute Travel’s top destinations in Southeast Asia, I jumped at it! Here’s a look back at those fourteen awe-inspiring days that I’ll never forget.
Day 1 | Bangkok Flower Market
We touched down in Bangkok and were thrilled to meet our wonderful and smiling guide, Kob, who led us to The Peninsula Hotel. Heaven! After a rainforest shower and a couple fresh coconut waters, we set out for the fragrant and colorful market that boasts intricate arrangements of gorgeous flowers assembled onsite by the delicate hands of local women. But the market went beyond just beautiful flowers! Kob visited different carts so we could sample some of her favorite local snacks: mangos (the best I’ve ever had), durian, lychee, pineapple, refreshing Thai coffee, and delicious dim sum. These tasty treats were just what I needed to welcome me to Thailand after a long 24 hours of travel!
Day 2 | A late night city view of Bangkok
Tonight we set out on an exciting night tour that included sampling foods from different neighborhoods, stopping at a variety of bars, and exploring the winding back alleys of Bangkok. Our final stop was Sky Bar, located on the 63rd floor of the Lebua hotel, overlooking the Chao Phraya River. Sky Bar has one of the best views in Bangkok and a jazz band which serenaded us as we sipped cocktails and enjoyed a cool breeze that is not found on ground level. A must-have Thai cocktail is the refreshing lychee martini, which is almost too delicious and easy to drink. It was a great way to take in all of Bangkok and end the night.
Day 3 | Double Rainbow
On day three we traveled south via Phuket to paradise, also known as Koh Phi Phi Island. In southern Thailand rain is common, but storms are usually brief and roll out as quickly as they roll in. What was a sunny day in paradise turned gray in a matter of minutes. However, the rain was short lived and a stunning double rainbow signaled its end. No one hopes for rain when they’re at the beach, but this rainbow reminded me that there’s always a silver lining. Lying on the beach and marveling at the rainbows arching over the ocean was quite the treat!
Day 4 | An Underwater World
Today was a day I have been looking forward to for some time–my first time open water scuba diving! I had completed a scuba class and pool dives prior to traveling (shout out to Pan Aqua in NYC!) and planned to complete my scuba certification while in Thailand. Dive day was sunny with unbelievable water clarity. My knowledgeable instructor Genie made me comfortable as I descended into the underwater world for the first time. The entire day was a blast! We saw many tropical fish, including clown fish, angel fish, porcupine fish and even a leopard shark! The reef and coral were more colorful and vibrant then I could have ever imagined – electric pink, shocking turquoise, and practically neon orange were just a few of the many colors that brought the underwater world to life. Midday we took a break for a picnic lunch that was enjoyed on a secluded beach. It was paradise.
Day 5 | Dancing in the Sand
On the fifth day we traveled to the town of Tonsai, still on Koh Phi Phi Island. Tonsai is known for its beautiful beaches, easy access to island touring, and its all-night party scene. After two-nights on remote beaches, this rowdy town with its constant soundtrack of dance music was a fun change of pace. After waiting out an early evening storm in a small Swedish bar, we made stops in a variety of bars, meeting many young travelers – many of these bars were located directly on the beach…we could alternate between dancing in the sand and taking a dip in the ocean to cool off. What a night!
Day 6 | Sometimes It’s the Simple Things
After a late night of dancing, a relaxing day on the beach sipping from a fresh coconut was exactly what I needed. It was a beautiful and quiet day on the beach, and I as I swam out into the crystal clear blue water and gazed up into the cloudless sky, I was overcome with happiness. I’d had a whirlwind of incredible experiences in the past six days and still had another week to look forward to! In this moment I felt like the most blessed person in the world – thank you Absolute Travel!
Day 7 | The Best Way to Eat Breakfast is With Your Toes in the Sand
We arrived in Krabi via ferry, and checked into the Tubkaak Boutique Resort. Located on the beach, with gorgeous rooms and impeccable service – it is an amazing property. The main restaurant overlooks the beach and features an extensive breakfast buffet with delicious and fresh options for every taste! I loved that they offered the option to sit at a table located in the sand, looking out at the limestone cliffs jutting from the sparkling water. As I sat back taking in the marvelous view, sipping fresh-squeezed juice, I realized I would like to eat my breakfast with my toes in the sand every day.
Day 8 | Motorcycle to Hilltop Lookout
Early this morning, before the majority of the town was awake, we set out on a motorcycle to explore the winding roads of Au Nang (the main town of Krabi). Wind in my hair, we traveled along the lengthy stretch of road paralleling the beach. When the road curved away from the beach, we followed it up a hill to an overlook of Au Nang. Taking in the quite morning, gazing down onto the town, beach, ocean, and limestone cliffs I realized how sad I was to be leaving southern Thailand today, but how sure I was that I would one day be back – this place is too incredible to experience just once!
Day 9 | Mae Fah Luang Garden
My sadness from leaving Southern Thailand was short lived when I realized the North had just as many incredible things to discover. On day nine, we visited the Mae Fah Luang Garden in Chiang Rai, which is an hour and a half flight from Bangkok. I am a big fan of flowers so this was quite the treat! The lush gardens had different areas, each featuring plants and flowers from a different region of Thailand. The center of the Garden is a perfectly manicured green lawn surrounded by vibrant blooming flowerbeds. Strolling through the Mae Fah Luang Garden, admiring and inhaling the scents of different flowers was a calming and enjoyable way to spend the afternoon.
Day 10 | Chiang Mai Night Bazaar
Today we drove south from Chiang Rai about three hours to Chiang Mai and the luxurious Dhara Devi Chiang Mai. As an avid shopper I had been on the lookout for the perfect souvenirs to bring back for friends and family… maybe a few things for myself too. The Chiang Mai Night Bazaar was the perfect place for this! An entire boulevard lined on both sides with kiosks selling a variety of clothes, jewelry, home goods, knock off designer products, and locally made art. I spent hours walking along the busy street, haggling with vendors. At the end of the night, my bags were full of (spoiler alert for those receiving Christmas presents from me) handmade crafts, bracelets, scarves, and clothing! What a fun filled evening!
Day 11 | Thai Elephant Home
Day eleven at the Thai Elephant Home was one of the most memorable days of the trip, if not of my life. The entire day was spectacular. We began with an introduction from the mahouts (elephant trainers) before going to meet the elephants. We didn’t waste any time before climbing on their necks and heading into the jungle. At midday, we had made our way along the jungle trails to our lunch spot. After a delicious pad thai lunch (which was packaged in banana leaf which became leftovers for the elephants) we partook in an “elephant spa,” essentially giving a mud bath to an elephant as he relaxed in a mud pit. Next it was our turn, and we covered ourselves in mud – it’s good for your skin (so they said!). When the elephant spa ended we headed to the stream. The elephants happily marched into the water, passengers on their backs, and we all took a cleansing bath. It was all smiles as we splashed and rubbed the mud off ourselves and the elephants. The elephants shot water from their trunks and seemed just as thrilled as we felt to be there! Spa and cleansing over, we trekked back to camp where hot foot baths awaited us and we were served cold beer and warm tea! A truly wonderful day.
Day 12 | Local Bites
Thailand is known for its delicious cuisine–5-star restaurants featuring famous chefs are prevalent in many of the major cities. However, I quickly discovered this is not the only way to get a top notch meal in this country. One of my favorite meals of the trip was eaten at a plastic table on a street corner surrounded by food trucks and local vendors. I began with a crisp and refreshing spicy papaya salad (their version of ‘mild’ was plenty hot for me). A popular dish in Thailand, green papaya is shredded and combined with tomatoes, bean sprouts, peanuts and a tangy spicy dressing – the dressing generally consists of fish sauce or soy sauce, lime, chili flakes and honey. This spicy yet sweet dish quickly became a favorite. My second course was a bowl of steaming coconut lemongrass soup. The coconut base makes a creamy yet light broth that is both flavorful and filling. The lemongrass adds a unique flavor that pairs well with the assorted veggies and tofu for a satisfying (and healthy) meal. I washed it all down with an ice cold Singhai beer. Just right!
Day 13 | Temple Breakfast
Next stop: Siem Reap, Cambodia, and the ancient ruins of Angkor Wat. We were lucky enough to stay at the just-opened Park Hyatt Siem Reap, which was over-the-top stunning and a highlight in itself! We arrived early at Angkor Wat to explore the temple Ta Prohm without the crowds. Although this temple is engulfed by vines and tree roots the remarkable architecture of the building that has stood since the early 12th century is still visible. Next, our knowledgeable guide, Bon Chuy, led us the temple of Ta Nei, where we were pleasantly surprised to not only be the only visitors but to be welcomed by a waiting tuk tuk (an auto rickshaw) with hot coffee, tea, and pastries. As I enjoyed the tea and fresh croissants, listening to the chirping of the birds in the jungle canopy, I was in awe of the temple ruins. I envisioned what the temple must have looked like nearly a millennium earlier. Clear off the overgrown vines and trees, the massive stone walls engraved with intricate designs would have rose high and mighty; one of the world’s great architectural feats. It was a magical morning that made me feel as though I had traveled through time.
Day 14 |Mini Monks at Floating Village
Our last day we explored Lake Tonle Sap. As we set out in the motorized long tail boat, we traveled through the fascinating floating village of Kompong Khleang. Children sporting neon life vests and backpacks paddled canoes bound for school, women sold groceries and home goods from boats and dogs watched and barked from houseboats and houses that stood on stilts. After making our way through the village, we entered the wide open Tonle Sap. Our boat guide cut the engine and tied us to a sturdy tree growing out of water, where we enjoyed a delicious picnic lunch in the warm sun. However, what made this moment special was occurring about 50 yards away. A boat filled with eight young boys was tied to another large tree that had a variety of large branches at different heights. The boys, dressed in traditional monk garb, laughed and shouted as they took turns climbing high into the tree and jumping, flailing, into the water below. Even from a distance you could feel their joy and thrill they were experiencing. Their shrieks and laughter echoed around me and I could not help but smile. Without electronics or toys, these young people were being entertained by something that came from nature—something the kids in New York City could learn from!
My trip to Thailand and Cambodia was unforgettable. Already planning my trip back…