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Thailand Recap: Koh Samui & Bangkok

We are definitely the relax on the beach with a tropical drink type people when it comes to vacations. The beautiful island of Koh Samui was a little over an hour via plane from Chiang Mai and was exactly the tropical paradise we imagined it would be. It was the perfect contrast to the busy streets of Bangkok where we ended our trip.

We got to Koh Samui on Monday (you can read all about what we did in Chiang Mai here) and absolutely loved the resort we chose and the beauty of the island. Breaking up the trip like this with three different places gave us the perfect mix of adventure, culture, and relaxation.

Koh Samui, Thailand

KOH SAMUI

We stayed at Six Sense Samui located on the northern tip of the Island of Koh Samui. It was a secluded jungle like resort where each hotel room was its own room separate from the others making us feel like we had our own little piece of the island. Our room had an infinity pool overlooking the ocean which I highly recommend if you are going to travel all the way over there! Every morning we drank coffee poolside watching the breathtaking sunrise. Yes, the big adventures of the trip were great, but it was these little moments watching the sky turn from golden yellow to orange, to blue that made it unforgettable.

Six Senses Samui
Maggie Michalczyk, RDN

The resort offered transportation to Chaweng Beach and Fisherman’s Village Bophut for a small fee which were each about 15-20 minutes away. That’s one thing to think about when deciding where to stay on this island. For us it was more about enjoying the quiet beach and the pool vs. venturing to one of the bigger beaches known for nightlife and activities.

We ventured out to Chaweng Beach on our first night and unfortunately ended up at a very touristy restaurant filled with westernized sushi and Asian food! From then on we knew the more authentic looking when it came to restaurants, the better. Fisherman’s Village was much more our speed and we had one of the best meals of the whole trip at a restaurant there. Other people vacationing were always so great to talk to and had the best restaurant recommendations!

One really unique aspect of Six Sense Samui that I loved learning more about was their sustainability and efforts to reduce waste and reuse resources on the resort. The property had its own farm with goats, chickens, and ducks all helping to fertilize the plants and flowers growing around the resort. Instead of plastic straws they used hollowed out lemon grass in the drinks and cleaned the rooms with a solution made from citrus skin that they ferment onsite.

Make sure you pack mosquito repellant especially if you are prone to bites! I am a mosquito magnet and did get quite a few bites on the island. The resort also had repellent available and I never felt sick from the bites, just itchy! Fisherman’s village was definitely more our speed and is where we had great food, less crowded shopping and a Nutella crepe dessert.

Koh Samui, Thailand

Ang Thong National Marine Park

On the second day in Koh Saumi we took an hour long boat ride out to Ang Thong National Marine Park, an archipelago of 42 islands in the Gulf of Thailand. One of the islands most famously known for inspiring the book called The Beach, which later became the movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio…you know that one?!

The island hopping adventure started with snorkeling, something I was a little nervous about because it was my first time but once I made it into the water, I absolutely loved it! We were really lucky to be able to see so many different types of fish and ecosystems in the water. Our tour guides were so knowledgeable and pointed out some really cool fish and creatures of the sea.

Koh Samui, Thailand

From there we kayaked to another small island with amazingly clear blue water and then back to one of the main islands for a traditional Thai lunch and relaxation on the beach. The last stop on the tour was the island with the blue lagoon that inspired The Beach (the movie itself was actually filmed on Phi Phi islands). Word of warning if you’re not a fan of heights, climbing the extremely steep steps to the top of the lagoon might not be for you! The steps were more like a latter. It was totally worth it but something I know might not be for everyone!

The rest of our time on the island was filled with tropical drinks and relaxing. Hanging at the resort and enjoying their infinity pool and a traditional thai massage at their gorgeous spa was exactly what we wanted to do. The resort also had a beautiful full size gym overlooking the ocean and I enjoyed a very relaxing yoga class on the beach one morning.

BANGKOK

Bangkok, Thailand

Bustling bangkok was the last stop on our tour of Thailand. Our agenda wasn’t set in stone but we knew we wanted to explore the famous floating markets, the Grand Palace and Chinatown.

On our first night in Bangkok I unfortunately had a little bit of a stomach bug (I was thankful that it was at the end of the trip vs. the beginning) It was no fun but luckily white rice and emergency room service french fries (I couldn’t imagine eating any Asian food at that point!) helped calm my stomach. I highly recommend packing a couple different stomach medications in case one doesn’t really help. I found that pepto didn’t really help but was glad we had a couple different extra strength medications with us.

Admittedly uber busy cities are not my thing, so having two full days in Bangkok felt like enough time to see the sights and enjoy it for what it is. We checked out a huge mall and walked up and down the stalls of the ultimate market in Bangkok where we bargained for tshirts, handmade jewelry, ceramics and of course a lucky elephant.

Drinking “matcha in the garden” at a Bangkok street market
Gac fruit aka baby jackfruit

Exploring Chinatown stimulated all of the senses. The sights, the smells, the lights were all so different everywhere you turned. We tried durian for the first time–a fruit notorious for its pungent smell and even banned in some places because it’s so stinky. It had a custard like taste that lingered in your mouth a little. I’m not rushing back to eat it but it was fun to try and little did I know it is very high in nutrition!

Mangosteen and the traditional alphonso mangoes found in Asia were my favorite fruits to eat during the trip. The mangoes are so unlike any mango that I have ever had here in the states and we ate one pretty much every day!

Trying durian in Chinatown
Mango in Thailand
Alfonso Mango

We wandered the bustling streets of Chinatown and grabbed a dinner down one street where the best smells were coming from. I couldn’t tell you what the place was called but I think that’s part of the experience–finding the hidden gems with some of the best foods you’ve ever eaten.  

On our last day in Bangkok we visited The Grand Palace and The Emerald Buddha. We thought we were getting ahead of the crowds by going early but the grounds were still bustling with tourists also largely due in part to the fact that Chinese New Year was approaching. We opted out of a guided tour but rather took in the grounds at our own pace. I loved looking at all of the details and opulent colors and old world design. Totally worth the trip when you’re in Bangkok!

The Grand Palace

The Bangkok airport itself could be considered a tourist destination. It was super huge but very efficient. It’s further than I thought from the actual city of Bangkok itself. We gave ourselves plenty of time as we said our goodbyes to Thailand and I headed home by way of Japan!

If you are playing a trip to Thailand and have any other questions that I didn’t cover in these blog posts, feel free to leave a comment or email me at onceuponapumpkinrd@gmail.com

XOXO

MAGGIE

Travel

Thailand Recap: Chiang Mai

The moment I stepped off the plane I could feel the hot sticky air of Chiang Mai Thailand hit my face and I automatically knew this was going to be a trip unlike any other. Located 435 miles north of Bangkok in a verdant valley on the banks of the Ping River, we started our trip in Chiang Mai where modern and ancient Thailand merge and the spirit and hospitality of the “land of smiles” can really be felt all around.  

It was six in the morning local time and we arrived only to find out that our pre-planned ride from the airport to the hotel couldn’t pick us up because it was too early in the morning. Grabbing a taxi at the airport, easy we thought, they all must be lined up outside ready and waiting. It turned out that wasn’t exactly the case but after some hand signals we we hoped in a taxi van and the trip was off! Taxis or tuk-tuks are the standard way of traveling around but keep reading to hear about a modern method of transportation that has recently made its way to Thailand and made us feel right at home.

We were greeted with cold hand towels, Thai ice tea and warm hospitality upon our arrival at The Inside House, our first hotel of the trip. Just off the main road this hotel makes you feel like you’ve stepped into a king of Thailand’s palace with it’s all white decor and opulent accents. The mesmerizing tree in the hotel lobby that looked like it had been growing for centuries lent even more old world elegance to the clean and bright grounds.

The Inside House Chiang Mai Thailand
The Inside House Chiang Mai Thailand
The Inside House Chiang Mai Thailand

Rob and I got right to exploring the streets of Chiang Mai, known as the old city. Foods carts, family-owned restaurants, and shops covered the streets in all directions as far as you could see. A gold plated temple would pop out of nowhere when you turned a corner revealing its unique colors, cultural richness and serene peace just by looking at it. No two temples that we saw on the trip looked alike but each one left me with a new look into the cultural significance of these peaceful sanctuaries.

In the name of post-flight hydration, my first order of business was finding coconut water in an actual coconut, which is very common to see at stores and on the streets all over Thailand. One thing to keep in mind is that everything sold on the streets or in family owned shops is negotiable. Most goods were sold at roughly the same price no matter where you went (i.e. shirts, pants with elephants on them, coconuts, etc.) but it never hurt to ask for a lower price. Most locals knew enough English to negotiate with your or would type the price into their calculator to show you.

Food in Chiang Mai Thailand

Our first eating experience in Chiang Mai was at a brightly colored corner restaurant that you’ll find on nearly every corner. It was early in the morning so very few people were sitting at restaurants but we liked it’s vibe, saw that they had free wifi (most places did and the hotel) and took a seat. We ordered all the things we heard we needed to try and a few things suggested by the waitress. Those things turned out to be the best, and at almost every single restaurant we went to over the course of the ten days we always asked what they recommended on the menu, something I highly recommend if you’re looking to try some quintessential Thai dishes that may be slightly out of your comfort zone.

mango sticky rice in chiang mai thailand

Our first traditional pad thai and mango sticky rice along with the pork dish and coconut soup we had did not disappoint. I don’t know if it was the jet lag hunger that made everything taste so good or the fact that we were on the other side of the world about to experience things we’d never before that made every bite on our plates disappear.

Chiang Mai Thai

Navigating Food Allergies and Intolerances in Thailand

Restaurant menus in Chaing Mai and in the other cities in Thailand that we visited all had descriptions written in english for each menu items so you could clearly see what you were ordering. No restaurant menu that I saw had allergens or specifications beyond what was in the meal denoted on the menu. I couldn’t tell you what oils or seasonings were used in any of the traditional dishes we ate which I realize is extremely challenging for those traveling with food allergies or intolerances. I did bring a lot of travel snacks which is definitely something I would recommend for anyone traveling allergies or not. Tackling family restaurants and street food may be a challenge if avoiding a particular food but I do think it is much easier to do so at restaurants located in the hotels.

A restaurant I’ll never forget in Chiang Mai is Ginger Farm Kitchen. We stumbled upon it and not only was the food great but the decor was like an Asian Antropologie inside!  They even had fried pumpkin which we tried but was a little too fried for my liking. The spring rolls were perfect and it was one of the few places that had reasonably priced wine by the glass (Thailand does not do wine! Their beer is super cheap but wine is much more expensive everywhere you go)

Activities in Chiang Mai Thailand

One of the reasons I was so excited to go to Thailand was to experience a traditional Thai massage and after being on a plane for 20 hours, truly nothing sounded better. I get them all the time here in Chicago and wanted to know if it would be similar! I am up for any type of massage and loved how they knew where my tight spots where and just the overall attention given to your head and scalp, stomach, legs, and booty. I know for some people it can feel like a full body massage of being poked and prodded is too invasive and not relaxing, but I very much enjoyed it and would highly recommend the experience. We popped into one located on the same street as our hotel that was inexpensive and had the Tripadvisor seal of approval!

Chiang Mai Thailand
U

On our first night in Chiang Mai we set out to experience their  street culture at one of their famous night markets. We downloaded Thailand’s version of Uber, called Grab which I highly recommend for traveling around the city and got a ride to that part of town. Just like with Uber the prices are fixed and at times a lot cheaper than what you would negotiate for in a taxi or tuk-tuk. It was also a great way to save our Thai Baht (their currency).

Rob and I hate crowds which was the only downside of the sprawling and lively markets. We were elbow to elbow with people slowly walking up and down the streets to see all of the foods and goods being sold. Food smells that I’ve never experience before filled my lungs as we perused everything from Thai silk scarves to handmade jewelry and all of the different ways they had to eat tropical fruits. Pad thai was being mixed in a wok as big as my stove and just the way food was displayed, cooked on sight, and presented was so interesting to see. On this first trip to the market we didn’t dabble in any food but did leave with a few Thai treasures to take back to the states.

One note on safety here because I’m sure you’re wondering is that Rob carried his wallet in his front pocket with his hand on it while we walked around at the night market and I didn’t bring a purse or have anything in my pockets. I felt completely safe but of course you’re not going to spot a pickpocket before they pick pocket you!

Elephant Sanctuary in Chiang Mai Thailand

Elephant Sanctuary in Chiang Mai Thailand

We were up with the sun on our second day in Thailand to spend the day at an elephant sanctuary about an hour away from the city. The tour picked us up from our hotel early in the morning and provided both a wonderful experience for us and the elephants with a traditional Thai lunch on site. The ride to the sanctuary itself was in a truck that had open benches in the back seat to sit on. We picked up a few other people along the way and once the truck was full headed out of the city and into the mountain. On the main highway I felt fine in the back of the truck but as someone who gets nauseous in the backseat of Ubers I knew it would only be a matter of time until I felt queasy from all the ride. As we twisted and turned up the mountain the nausea really started to hit me, but the allure of excitement and talking to other foreigners in the truck helped me not to think about it as much.

Elephant Sanctuary in Chiang Mai Thailand

It took about an hour to get there and once we arrived we could smell the elephants before we saw them! The sanctuary was very nice and they took the time to explain how the day would go and that the safety and well-being of the animals (and us) was their number one priority. In order to ride an elephant they must be brutally tamed when they are young, which is why sanctuaries like this one we visited are all about the nurturing and proper care of the elephants. The Asian elephants found at this sanctuary are actually endangered because of their loss of habitat.

Elephant Sanctuary in Chiang Mai Thailand

I won’t give away all of the details of the day in case this is one of the things you are looking forward to most about visiting Thailand, but as I’m sure you can see from the pictures, the elephants were beautiful! They were playful and down for a good time in the mud and their love for bananas was something we had in common. I’ll always cherish this memories from this part of the trip and it was fun to meet other people vacationing in Thailand also on this day trip and swap travel stories.

Surviving The 20 Hour Flight

This section contains affiliate links–which means if you happen to purchase one of these products through the link I get a small commission. As always I am so thankful for your support!

If traveling this long has you apprehensive about visiting Thailand or Asia for that matter, I’m detailing all of the things that helped me relax, stay busy and most importantly keep from getting sick during my journey to and from Thailand.

Neosporin in Your Nose– Before I got on the plane I put Neosporin up both of my nostrils. This is said to protect against bacteria and viruses. I’m not sure that this method is 100% valid but I didn’t get sick and have been doing it on planes ever since!

NEW & Fun Travel Snacks – bringing a few fun snacks that are new to you or maybe you haven’t had it a while will give you something to look forward to on the plane instead of the same bars or snacks that you eat on a daily basis. Here are some of my favorites that were great snacks in the hot climate once I got there too.

  • Chomps –  Perfect because they don’t take up a lot of room but pack the protein. Also heat safe to take on a long hike or to the beach. I love the beef and turkey flavors!
  • Simple Mills Crackers – these were great when I felt a little nauseous during bumpy travel on a day trip and one of my go-tos at home and on-the-go.
  • RX Bar Nut Butter — If you’re a nut butter lover like me and need it daily, I recommend bringing your own and these are my current favorites. All the flavors are delicious and they were great to have for the whole trip!
  • GG Fiber Crackers – to keep “things moving” and to feel my best on the trip I knew I would need some extra help in the fiber department because for the first few days my body was out of whack! I brought these fiber crackers to breakfast and topped them with eggs, cheese, or smoked salmon and drank a lot of water before and after eating them.

Podcasts, Music, & Books – I downloaded my favorite podcasts, bought two new books and a new magazine to switch back and forth with on the plane. I always say I’m going to read more when I’m at home but love taking advantage of vacation or plane time when I have the time!

Compression Socks, Eye Mask & Ear Plugs – compression socks are recommended to improve blood flow on long flights and wearing mine kept my feet nice and cozy as I did my best to sleep with an eye mask on and ear plug ins. Some airlines will provide the ear plugs and eye mask, along with earphones too. We flew Qatar Airways on the way there and it was a very enjoyable flight!

Our next stops on this tour of Thailand were to the beautiful island of Koh Saumi and the bustling city of Bangkok! Be sure to check back next week for Thailand Part II where I detail the sights, foods, and happenings in both of those cities! And if this post has you hungry for healthy Thai food be sure to check out my recipe for spaghetti squash pad Thai!

XOXO

MAGGIE