My mother called the day I got back from my two-week tirade in Thailand to hear all about my trip and ensure I was safe and sound in Chicago. After telling her about my travels, she asked if I wanted to talk to my father. Of course, I was happy to speak with both my parents, but after a minute of muffled chatter on the other end of the line, I was informed that I had to wait for such a conversation until I could provide a show and tell. While I was planning to write this blog post anyway, I now feel obliged to specifically dedicate it to my dad and his demand of visuals.
I left for my adventure two days after Christmas. While with my family, I was asked several times why on earth I would want put myself through 30 hours of travel (one way) for a single destination. My responding rationale is threefold. I went…
- To visit Shane, a pretty incredible guy I am rather fond of (as evident by my 9,000 mile journey);
- To feed my ongoing craving for new places and cultures (I’ve never traveled to Asia);
- And last but not least, to escape the cold, dreary winter weather in NY and IL (yes, going to Thailand is a bit extreme for this, but bathing suit temps and beautiful beaches were definitely a perk)
Shane works in a boarding house affiliated with Phuket International Academy and Thanyapura, a top-notch sports facility for professional athletes. While my stay was definitely packed with a plethora of activities, I also enjoyed hanging out around the facilities and getting to know the boarding house staff and students. The teens I met were extremely driven, smart, kind and captivating. They tried putting on an act to come across as mean when I first arrived, but their sincere compassion quickly showed through. Shane’s co-workers, Cat and Jani, also made me feel truly welcomed. They invited me on a few ‘girls nights out’ which were an absolute blast!
When I first arrived, my Chicago roommate, Rachel, was also visiting. Our stays only overlapped for a day, but it was still amazing to see her on the other side of the world! Together, we went with Shane and Jani to the Big Buddha, situated on top of the Nakkerd Hills. The view was quite incredible and the route up the steep incline offered several tourist attractions as well, including elephant riding, ATV touring, and snake shows. With the cash we had on hand, we decided to try a snake show, which culminated in some interesting photos to say the least.
The next day, after dropping Rachel off, we went to Kathu Waterfall, which was a bit smaller than our expectations, but still big enough to bash me up… I fell down it head first, knocking out a boarding house student along the way! Bruised and battered, I couldn’t help but laugh at the ridiculous incident, apologizing profusely to the poor guy I wiped out.
That evening, Shane and I went to a night market bustling with people, bursting with merchandise, and beckoning my appetite for savory local food.
I spent the last day of December at Kamala Beach with Shane, Cat, and their former co-worker/friend Michael (aka Ates) who was visiting the area with his girlfriend Minji. After lunch, swimming and frisbee, we took on the long-awaited banana boat, which in our case was an inflated raft designed to look like a demented pencil. Nonetheless, the ride was thrilling and a good alternative to the traditional beach time passings.
New Year’s Eve was also on the beach (Layan Beach). The scenery was absolutely magical as hundreds of paper lanterns were set off amidst colorful fireworks. Eager to contribute to the display, the boarding house crew came prepared with their own box of sparklers and such. The boys had fun messing with the explosives, but I have to admit I felt a little too close for comfort at times. Overall however, the experience was exceptionally unique and most certainly memorable!
While some may start the new year off with a bang, I bounced into January with many! On the first of the month I went to Anthem Wake Park where I wiped out over and over again. I was happy to be amongst the persistent boarding house students who were also giving the tough sport their all. I came to realize I have a long ways to go before becoming a wakeboarder, but I suppose persistence is a precious lesson at a time of fresh beginnings.
A few days later, Shane and I rented a moped and headed north. En route, we stopped at a little safari where my request to ride an elephant was appeased. Our end destination was Phang Nga Bay. Once there, we were led through large limestone karsts jetting out of the water in a long tail boat. The whole area was somewhat uncanny, but magnificently astounding at the same time. We ate lunch at Ko Panyi, a Muslim fishing village built on stilts within the bay, then swam at Khao Phing Kan, or James Bond island as it’s commonly called after its debut in the iconic American films.
The sight seeing continued the next day with a ferry boat ride out to Phi Phi islands. After swimming, dining, drinking and meandering through hundreds of little shops, restaurants, bars and hotels, we watched a fire dancer show on the beach then got some sleep before embarking on a kayak adventure the following morning. Paddling tandem style, we worked our way over to Monkey Beach, which lived up to its name with lively, swindler inhabitants skilled at snatching tourists’ food, beverages and random possessions. We then stopped by Maya Beach before returning the kayak and heading back.
As my vacation came to an end I wanted to try squeezing more sightseeing in, but Shane had other ideas in mind. We compromised by creating a schedule that entailed visiting Wat Chalong temple and bungee jumping (within the same day). After enduring extreme heat, loopy unnamed roads, and a stomach-flipping dive, I fully embraced the serene beauty of the beachside sunset in the evening (at Surin Beach).
Scrolling to the top of this post, I confess this entry is much longer than I intended, but squeezing two weeks of travel into 2,000 words is no easy feat.
I cannot help but grin as I reminisce on my time visiting the land of smiles. The welcoming people, breathtaking sights, daring adventures and delectable food all left fond impressions that will not be forgotten.
I hope to explore Asia more in the future, but for now, it’s great to be back amongst friends and colleagues in the windy city I currently call home.
*Many pictures in this post are accredited to Shane Conrad-Davis and his trusty iPod. Stock photo of New Year’s lanterns.