Hiya everyone! Long time no update! Things sort of got busy after the wedding and before we knew it, it was finally time to embark on our honeymoon in Thailand! Because of Selma’s school schedule, we had to wait until Christmas break to take our honeymoon but that was completely fine by me since I was pretty exhausted after planning a whole wedding. It also gave me a few months to finalize our trip as well which was much needed since the only thing I had booked after the wedding were our plane tickets.
After tons of research, I decided on Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Phuket for our 10 day trip since traveling between cities in Thailand is incredibly easy and inexpensive. Plus, I had a bunch of hotel points to burn through SPG and those cities had the most properties to choose from. The plan was to fly into Bangkok and spend our first few nights exploring the city and temples and then make our way north to the mountainous regions of Chiang Mai to play with elephants. Finally, we would conclude the trip with a relaxing week of sun and surf in Phuket!
If you want to skip all the pictures and words and just feel like watching a cool video montage of our trip instead, here you go!
For our first day in Bangkok, we did a private tour through Tour with Tong. We wanted to see as much of the city as possible during our visit so we planned an all day tour around Bangkok to see the major sites. Our amazing tour guide Tammy met us bright and early at our hotel at 7am and we were off to the first stop of the day.
The Maeklong Railway Market is literally a market on top of a railroad track. Several times a day, the train will come through and vendors will clear the entire area in a matter of seconds. And after it passes, they will put everything back like nothing happened just as quickly as if it were normal for a train to come through the middle of their shop. Pretty freaking amazing. It was also the place to get fruits/veggies since this is actually a functional market that the locals use.
Next we headed over to the Floating Market. This has become more of a tourist trap in recent years but it’s still a cool place to visit nonetheless. You load up into a canal boat and paddle along the waterways where there are a ton of vendors on either side. Hands down the best thing we got along the way was the coconut ice cream. I wish I had some right now it was that good.
The next stop was back to Bangkok to visit the major temples (The Royal Temple of The Emerald Buddha, Wat Pho, etc) and the Royal Palace. It’s crazy how much detail and color they incorporate into each temple/statue. And even crazier, it was all done by hand!
Also, because of the recent passing of their King, there were a ton of people traveling from all over Thailand to the Royal Palace to pay their respects so we couldn’t really get too close to the palace.
I should also mention that this was hands down the best way to see the sites in Thailand. The cost for 2 people, a private tour guide, private driver, an air-conditioned sedan and entry to all sites for the entire day was roughly ~100 USD per person. Yes, it is more expensive than if you were to take taxis around and do it yourself, but having a knowledgable guide to show you the everything is definitely the way to go in my opinion. Plus, you get to move at your own pace and pick and choose what you want to see and do.
The next day, we ventured on into the city to do a cooking class with Sompong Thai Cooking School. Selma and I both love Thai food so naturally we couldn’t come to Thailand without doing a cooking class. Plus, it was only ~$25 a person and a quick train stop from our hotel so it was a no-brainer.
The half day class started with a visit to the local market where we picked up ingredients that we would use later on in the day.
If we weren’t about to make a ton a food, i would have so gotten one of these fishies for lunch.
Each day has a different menu so when we went, our class made Panaeng chicken curry, Home made panaeng curry paste, Thai papaya salad, Fried noodle Thai style and Golden banana in syrup.
The thing I liked most about the class was that it was very hands on. The instructor would show you how to make a dish and then you would set off to do it on your own. And the best part is that you can eat all the food you made right after!
And yes, we made that rose ourselves out of tomato skins 😀
If you are wanting to do a cooking class in Bangkok, I would highly recommend Sompong Thai Cooking School. It was an extremely well organized class with a fantastic instructor (thanks Irin!). Plus, we finally learned to make Pad Thai! We tried to make it again at home and lets just say it didn’t go so well…
Final few notes about Bangkok…
Bangkok is an awesome city with a ton to do and see. The easiest way to get around is the Sky Train. It’s around ~1 dollar to ride the train around and it’s quick, clean and efficient. That and you don’t have to risk your life riding around in the Tuk Tuks. Also, if you are an SPG or Marriott rewards member, the Renaissance Bangkok is the place to stay. Their club lounge alone makes staying at this hotel worth it. Apart from the included meals during our day tours, we ate all of our meals in the club lounge because it was that good (and included with our room).
They also have a full bar in the evenings!
However, after experiencing a few other places throughout Thailand, Selma and I both agreed that if we were to return, we would skip Bangkok all together. Bangkok to us just felt like a busy city and we were looking for more of a relaxing low key vacation with more local charm. That being said, if you’ve never been, Bangkok is a must for a first-timer.
Next we boarded a plane and headed north to Chiang Mai! Flights from Bangkok were around ~$30 per person so flying is definitely the way to go. Chiang Mai is famous for their beautiful mountains and of course, the elephants!!! Plus, compared to Bangkok, the weather here was a million times better!
And yes, we did another cooking class. Since this is a food blog, I thought the best way to experience the local culture AND feed ourselves along the way was through cooking our own food. Plus, we got to learn how to make all of our favorite dishes!
The day started off with a pick-up from our hotel and then a visit to another local market.
Best thing about this market by far was this homemade sausage.
Then it was off to Benny’s cooking school at her home. Her house is situated right next to a rice patty and comes complete with this beautiful gazebo. In between cooking dishes, we got to eat and relax next to her organic garden and take in the views. We honestly could have stayed here all day.
During the class, we got to make 5 dishes plus a curry paste and the Benny salad. And since we got to choose our own menu, Selma and I were able to make different dishes so we could try everything!
If you are looking for an amazing full day experience, I would highly suggest paying Benny’s Home Cooking a visit. The class costs ~$35 per person and includes pickup/drop-off at your hotel which is more than a steal! More importantly, Benny is a wonderful instructor and her outdoor classroom and organic garden are simply stunning. This was definitely one of the highlights of our trip and I hope we can make it back there again.
The next day we headed out of the city to the Lanna Kingdom Elephant Sanctuary! When choosing an elephant park, we were very conscious to choose one that was ethical and focused on the well-being of the animals instead of trying to please the tourists. I won’t go into those details here but a quick google search will reveal exactly how terrible the industry has become. So after doing a bunch of research, we stumbled upon Lanna Kingdom Elephant Sanctuary which was exactly what we were looking for.
Lanna Kingdom is located ~30 min outside of Chiang Mai and is named after their baby rescue elephant Lanna (pictured above!). It’s a small camp with only 3 elephants but the group sizes are small allowing for more time with the elephants. These animals have all been rescued from work camps or the circus so it’s nice to see an organization that advocates for the well-being of these animals.
The first stop on the tour after getting changed into these awesome uniforms was snack time with the elephants. This is where you get to pet/feed them bananas and get some sweet pictures with them.
Next, we were off to gather some veggies for the animals. This would have been easier if Lanna didnt keep trying to eat all the greenery out of our hands while we were working.
Even though Lanna was a pretty naughty elephant she was so damn cute so we didn’t mind.
The last stop of the day was the mud bath and pond to help cool off the elephants. This is the part where you actually get in the mud and water with them and give them a good scrubbing. They clearly love this part of the day…
All in all, this was an amazing experience. Getting to be up close and personal with these gentle creatures was really one of the highlights of the trip. If you are looking for an ethical elephant park to visit in Chiang Mai, I would suggest paying Lanna Kingdom a visit. And at ~$75 a person, this tour included round trip transportation from your hotel and lunch which was definitely worth it in our option.
Also, I can’t not mention the ridiculous night bazaar in Chiang Mai right outside our hotel. Every night around 5-6pm, vendors and food carts would appear out of nowhere and set up all along the street selling everything from local delicacies to handmade souvenirs. And the best part was that it was all extremely affordable! You can honestly eat 3 full meals here for less than ~$10 per person if you do it right.
This is just a sample of the ridiculousness you can get for around ~$10. Our only regret was not getting to try more food while we were here.
Again, if you are an SPG member, the Le Meridien is the place to stay if you’re planning a visit to Chiang Mai. They treat Gold and Platinum member very well and the hotel is perfectly located right in the center of the city. Plus, they have a killer rooftop pool with some amazing views!
A few final notes about Chiang Mai…
Selma and I both agreed that if we were to return in the future, we would fly straight to Chiang Mai and spend more time here. Everything from the weather to the local culture just felt more inviting. In comparison to everywhere we visited, Chiang Mai was definitely more relaxed and authentic. Plus, this leg of the trip was also the most affordable so if you are on a budget, you should definitely add Chiang Mai to your list of places to visit. Everything from hotels, food, and taxis were a fraction of the cost compared to Bangkok and Phuket so that was a welcomed surprise.
For our final leg of our trip, we knew we wanted to relax and enjoy the beach since we were so busy sightseeing and doing day tours all throughout Bangkok and Chiang Mai. There were a lot of reason why we chose Phuket but the main reason was the beaches and weather this time of the year.
We arrived super late on Christmas Eve to this little surprise waiting for us in our room. Again, it’s the small things that makes all the difference! But more on the resort later.
This would also be our first Christmas together away from our families but the resort did a fantastic job of making it feel like home. They had a special Christmas Day dinner on the beach under the stars complete with a live band which we couldn’t pass up on.
They literally had everything from all you can eat grilled lobster to sushi and everything in between.
The only downside was that it poured half way through so we all had to run for cover. The hotel was very good about getting everything set up in one of their other dining rooms so the festivities could continue.
Since we wanted this part of the trip to be relaxing and carefree, I only booked one excursion over our five days in Phuket. A coworker of mine suggested that we do a tour of the Phi Phi Islands so while researching companies, I came across NudiTours offering small group tours. I have read horror stories of companies that try to cram 20-30 people onto a boat to make more money per tour and that is exactly what we didn’t want. They offer two tours; one to the Phi Phi islands and another to Phang Nga but based on the owner Seans’ recommendation, we picked the Phi Phi Islands tour.
The day started off with a ride to a nearly deserted island where we spent the first part of the day sunbathing and swimming in the sea. In contrast to other major tours, this company prides itself of keeping you away from the busy beaches and crowds which was definitely a huge plus. We literally had the entire beach to ourselves that morning! Afterwards, it was snorkeling, lunch at a local restaurant, and then more snorkeling.
They did bring us around the more famous beaches like Maya Bay (where the Beach was filmed) but since it was so packed with tourists, we decided to stay away. Instead, they opted for the more secluded coves where we had tons of time to snorkel and enjoy the water.
All in all, I’m so glad we went with NudiTours. At around ~$100 per person, you get round trip transfers from your hotel, lunch, and a full day tour in small groups allowing for a more relaxed and enjoyable day. We went at our own pace and never felt rushed hopping from location to location. Sean was incredibly easy to communicate with and Sompong was a fantastic tour guide. I can’t recommend this company enough! Once again, since I am a gold member with SPG and Marriott, we chose to stay at the Renaissance Phuket. There were a few properties to choose from but based on location and reviews, this resort fit the bull perfectly. And in the end, I’m so glad we went with this property. This was probably the best elite service that I have ever experienced in my entire life. Everything from the staff to the complimentary pool villa upgrade made this one of the most memorable trips of all time. The staff were beyond accommodating and were always willing to go the extra mile for you. Plus, this resort is simply stunning.
A few final thoughts on Phuket….
Not surprisingly, Phuket was the most expensive and “touristy” part of our trip. Because Phuket is considered one of the most popular vacation destinations in Thailand, it’s usually really crowded and overrun with tourists during peak season. But you do have a few options when choosing location when in Phuket. We chose to stay closer to the airport (Mai Kao beach) because we weren’t interested in the crazy night life near Patong. But if you’re planning on coming to Phuket, just know that everything is “resort price” (aka U.S. prices for everything). But with a little research and planning, you can definitely score some amazing deals and find some affordable options for hotels and dining. For example, we ate at JJ’s Bar for dinner twice because it was way cheaper than the report options and only a quick 10 minute walk from the hotel.
Unfortunately, this concludes our amazing 10 day trip to Thailand. We sincerely hope we get a chance to return to this beautiful country in the future. Everything from the local culture to the people just make you want to stay forever and never leave.
If you have any questions or want to know more about a specific tour we went on, or if you have any questions on traveling through Thailand, please leave a comment below!