In order to begin this story, we need to step into a time machine and transport ourselves back to the year 2017 – location: Germany. A friend and I were partaking in the Erasmus programme to improve our language skills and we had a 3-month long semester break. My friend, Laura, suggested that it would be a good idea to go to Asia, as she really wanted to go to Thailand. Quite honestly, I had more interest in eating a packet of crisps than travelling to Thailand at that time.
Since we were in mainland Europe and close to many other countries it seemed like a more sensible idea to travel around Europe. So, we did exactly that! We travelled all of Scandinavia. Laura made me promise that we would go to Thailand when we graduated from university, so I, thinking that she would forget, totally agreed to this. How glad I am, that I was wrong!
Back to the time machine dear readers! Fast forward to 2019. We were back in Ireland in our final year of university. Laura asked me about the plans for Thailand. I simply said that I was in, as promised, and would try to round up the troops to come with us. Laura didn’t know my friends that well, but I assured her that none of them were axe murderers (as far as I knew) and that they were a pretty friendly, chilled bunch.
One important thing to understand about this trip is that Laura and I are very different – but it works! She is the planner and half the time I don’t really 100% know what is going on, but I supply the humans. That week I scheduled a coffee date with Laura and 2 friends of mine. Laura said that she had found the best Thailand group holiday and presented it to us…naturally, we had a whole bunch of questions but after a few DMs over Facebook with Feel Free Travel, we were super pumped and decided to get it booked – woohoo!
The whole process from start to finish was amazing, the team were super helpful before booking and the support continued to flow – They sent us emails to welcome us to the ‘Feel Free Family’ and gave us a good insight into the trip we would be taking. At this point, we were SUPER excited! This also helped to put us putting our minds as ease as we had never been on a group tour before.
The night before the flight, everyone was immensely excited. All of a sudden my phone started ringing and a very stressed Lisa was on the phone. (Lisa and Ciara were the friends who joined us on the trip.) Lisa had forgotten to check-in for her flights and now it was too late. After much calming down, I assured her that no one would die and she managed to call the airline to check in. This is the first of many crises which occurred during our travels. All of which were absolutely hilarious and quite minor in hindsight (the guys were always quite amused at our little ‘dramas’ 🤣)
Time for take-off…
At last, the day had come, it was time to fly to Thailand. We arrived bleary-eyed at the airport, simultaneously half asleep and incredibly excited. The journey itself went smoothly, even though we were not fully awake, we avoided missing our flight which is always a solid result at the airport.
Eventually, we arrived in Bangkok. As planned the boys arranged for us an airport pickup – lifesavers. Feeling like a celebrity upon seeing our names on a sign we grabbed our ride. This is quite funny as I am quite certain I appeared like a dishevelled Viking at this point of the journey, so not quite Madonna.
Anyway…the journey seemed to last forever (only 45 minutes 🚖) at which point I started questioning if we were getting kidnapped. Although, at this stage of the journey I was exhausted and the fact that I may be getting abducted seemed like a minor issue – so I went to sleep. When I woke up, we had reached our place and got greeted by Mat and Adam – these are incredible humans who will make you feel totally at ease from the moment you arrive.
The hotel was great, super clean, staff were friendly and the place was in such a great location to go for a wander. We went for some beers and what was quite random was that locals kept trying to offer me scorpions. It is funny what you can get used too. After one hour I was completely unfazed by the random strangers shoving scorpions in my face (That is not a sentence I ever thought I would use).
After a lovely evening with the gang the night before the trip, we decided to head back for a slumber in the room. I woke up full of energy at approximately 4am due to the wonderful phenomenon which is known as ‘jet lag’. After hearing the shuffles from the girls I realised I wasn’t alone with these struggles…after a little catch-up and a few online comedy sketches we got ourselves back to sleep.
Bangkok: Day’s 1 – 3
On our first day, we were introduced to the other members of the group. It felt like the first day of school all over again (but with much more fun and of course sun ☀️ ). In a matter of hours, all the newbie jitters had disappeared. Everyone was incredibly open and friendly, so we soon became an impromptu family. We went on a super cool walking tour of the city led by our local guide named ‘Johnny Walker’, like most people in Asia he looked about 25 years old but apparently was in his late 30’s. Following this, we visited the most wonderful local temple in Bangkok, learned about our futures and what I loved most about this day trip was the many street vendors we were involved with.
Time for a pit stop to grab a coffee from a lady who made coffee like Van Gogh made art – very artistically and I think cost us about 1 EURO. Somehow, she possessed the skill to pour coffee into the cup from a height of approximately one meter. I struggle to pour milk into my porridge (and coffee) in the morning, so it is safe to say that I was very impressed indeed. Sometimes I still think about her and smile when I manage to spill more milk outside of my cup than in my cup at 6am. Quite hilariously Starbucks had threatened to sue this sweet Thai lady as she had branded her coffee “Starbeans.” The thought of a big American corporation being intimidated by a little lady selling coffee on the streets of Bangkok is quite funny indeed.
We traversed the streets in Tuk Tuks, my life flashed before my eyes only 100 times. But the adrenaline was great. There is nothing quite like being placed in a little metal cart, weaving between traffic to help you bond with the 2 strangers sitting next to you. Also, it is an incredible opportunity to take some funky photos for the ‘Gram’. We visited a number of markets in Bangkok and admired all their local goods. I purchased some super funky duck pyjamas, which I still wear to this day. My housemate does not approve of them but I think she is just jealous that she does not have her own pair of funky PJ’s.
The main street in Bangkok with all the bars is called Khaosan Road. We went there at night time to bond with the group and to sample the buckets. By buckets, I mean buckets of cocktails. The buckets were both tasty and deadly – mostly amazing though. We also sampled some bugs. Laura and I being the mature adults that we are, had a bug-eating competition. I’m sure the boys caught some killer footage that night of me chewing a maggot! Another thing ticked off the bucket list I suppose (I never knew there was even on my bucket list until that night).
Adam and Matt had everything planned so well. We followed their lead like stress-free little ducklings and had the most incredible time partying on the main strip in Bangkok. Somehow Laura and I became the party animals of the group which was very unexpected. Looking back on it, I should’ve asked Laura if she wanted to go out in our duck PJ’s because apparently anything goes in Bangkok!
The following morning we dusted ourselves off and went on a boat cruise through the local canals in Bangkok. Not usually my way of spending a hangover but to be fair it was pretty cool! What made it even better was when we finished there was a local Thai lady waiting to give us the best massage of our LIVES (Aren’t massages such a weird concept? You basically pay a stranger to touch you. Baffling).
Khao Sok National Park: Day 4
The journey continues south via overnight train with our newly formed family of travellers…what an experience so far! The next stop on this trip is Khao Sok National Park…have you ever thought about sleeping in a floating bungalow in the middle of the rainforest? Probably not. Would it be an amazing experience? Absolutely! If you agree with this, then Khao Sok National Park is the ideal place for you. We set sail towards what could only be compared to the opening scene from Jurassic Park…WOW WOW WOW!
The mode of transport of choice was a traditional longtail boat (If you don’t know what that is – Google it immediately). Upon arriving at our floating bedchamber which was surprisingly awesome btw…we got ourselves settled in and had some time to really appreciate this incredible place! After lunch, we grabbed a few beers, a rubber tube and found ourselves floating for hours chatting nonsense listening to some pretty chilled music (good job Adam 🔊).
As the sun began to set the boys suggested going to visit some of ‘their friends’ – the monkeys. We took what appeared to be the smart idea of kayaks, little did I know my wingman during this debacle was Mat (our 2nd tour leader). He apparently has a habit of capsizing kayaks and shunning the responsibility onto others – that day I was ‘the other girl’. For anyone looking to book this trip…DO NOT partner with Mat in the kayaks 🙈
The evening was full of delicious local food, brain teasers by Adam and other games such as “Werewolf.” Personal tip: do not sacrifice your roommate to win this game, you may be threatened to sleep on the floor.
Krabi: Day’s 5 – 6
I am sorry to be the bearer of bad news but Mr Krabs from Spongebob does not live here. In Krabi, we stayed in the most wonderful hotel. I felt slightly homeless arriving in my elephant pants only to be greeted by a very well dressed employee with a wet towel to clean my hands. (the accommodation on this trip was incredible – I am no princess but I enjoy a good night’s sleep). At this stage, I was quite hungry so I briefly considered eating the gift he gave me, thank God I didn’t. We relaxed on the rooftop and I would say we “caught some rays “, but I am ginger so I only catch sunburn or shade.
The boys had a plan for lunch to fix my ‘hanger’ which as expected…was on point! We then conquered the 10,000 steps (not literally) to the top of Tiger Cave Temple. By conquer I mean, we questioned our life choices 10 times while climbing up the steps. The climb was 100% worth every step we took. The views from the top were truly out of this world!
That night we took on the Ao Nang nightlife – in other words, we gravitated towards the closest ladyboy bar. It’s quite a paradox really the concept of ladyboys. Some were more beautiful than any actual woman I had ever seen, but they also weren’t really women. My brain short-circuited temporarily trying to comprehend this. In reflection, it was quite the evening of laughs, shots and maybe the odd thing each of us regretted… (Adam riding the broomstick like Harry Potter outside McDonalds is quite a vivid memory).
Today’s hangover saw us take another boat ride to the amazing Railay Beach, there really is no better place to spend an afternoon reminiscing about the chaos of the evening before…good times! After numerous dips in the ocean, we decided to challenge ourselves to a competitive game of volleyball. I still think our team won!
Koh Phi Phi: Day‘s 7-8
The next stop on our Thailand tour was the Phi Phi Islands. We went there by boat – ferry to be exact. But most importantly this ferry had SNACKS… priorities! As we approached we were welcomed by traditional longtail boats framing the shore and towering limestone casts surrounding us. These islands were very picturesque indeed, with a beautiful view over the ocean. Our time on the island was full of sunsets, snorkelling, a harmless whitetip reef shark I named Fred and some incredible fire shows (if you are inspired by Disney’s ‘How to Train your Dragon’ this could be your moment!)
Our time on Phi Phi was truly amazing, we had lots of fun and spent the afternoon sun-baking sharing life stories while in search of Nemo and friends!
Chiang Mai: Day’s 9 – 10
Next up we boarded a plane and flew to Chiang Mai. A city surrounded by mountains running at a pace far slower than Bangkok (considering it’s Thailand’s 2nd biggest city). Chiang Mai is famous for night markets with an incredible array of local cuisine on offer, naturally, we had to sample as much as humanly possible – even writing this blog makes me feel hungry! Laura and I got our tarot cards to read which was quite intriguing, however, I am still waiting for the super funky love-triangle which was apparently supposed to make an appearance in my life.
Furthermore, we experienced a truly traditional Thai Cooking Class in the rice fields with the most amazing outdoor bathroom I have ever seen in my life. It was like a miniature jungle. We cooked up a storm and enjoyed the fruit of our labours while chatting and laughing about our travels this far.
Pai: Day‘s 11 – 13
Pai is the hipster spot in Thailand. Not all travellers know about this treasure, but luckily we had the chance to visit it and spend some time up there. We visited the markets at night-time, where Laura and I bought some hippy glasses to fit in with the vibe and Adam got offended that we found a man taller than him (you really are the @2nd.tallest.man.in.asia). The food at this market was amazing and I implore you to go there with a rumble in your belly in order to experience all of the local delights.
We also went tubing in rubber rings down the river for sunset. Imagine a lazy river within the most scenic Thai countryside. Honestly…an experience not to miss! One thing you probably do want to miss is the rocks that burst my ring (my rubber tube of course), like the competent adult that I am, I was rescued with a new, fully- functioning tube to continue on my adventure. On the 2nd day in Pai, we had the pleasure of chilling in an über scenic natural hot springs, apparently the sulphur and mineral content has medicinal properties which are good for your health 🙌🏼. We also visited this bamboo bridge that connects the village to the temple in the jungle and watched the sun come down over the Pai Canyon (again another pretty special experience with new friends).
Chiang Mai (Part two): Day’s 14 – 15
THERE WERE ELEPHANTS. I feel like these three words would suffice. Nevertheless, I shall continue. At this point, it had sunk in that the tour was reaching its end… such a devasting feeling. We returned to Chiang Mai, eager to make the most of our final days in this incredible country.
The following day we visited an ethical elephant sanctuary, the experience was very intimate with us feeding them like Cleopatra was fed grapes. (However, I am certain that we enjoyed the experience much more than Cleopatra’s slaves). I admittedly was not prepared for how I reacted when I saw these incredible animals. My soul has never been so happy. I did admittedly consider moving to Thailand to volunteer in an elephant sanctuary after this experience. Instead, I became an auditor – slightly (one million times) less exciting. We washed the elephants in the river and may have had a mud fight afterwards – total adults.
Unfortunately, following this our time with Feel Free Travel had reached its end. With a heavy heart, we said “au revoir” to our newly formed family and embarked on our next adventures as separate entities. In a slightly altered version of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s famous quote, “’tis better to have
loved travelled and lost than never to have loved travelled at all” … I am almost certain those would’ve been his exact words had he accompanied us on the trip.
If Anne’s story got you filled with FOMO… checkout our South to North – 15 days in Thailand trip here 🐘 🏝 ☀️ 🇹🇭