My Ultimate Thailand

The last 2 weeks have certainly been an experience I will never forget.  Trying at times, and definitely not always luxurious, but really wonderful in so many ways. It has most definitely been a trip of firsts, and each day even with its ups and downs is better than the last.img_4173Even though seasoned travelers advised me against it ,I did my first ever group trip while traveling, and I am so grateful for that experience. I decided to book a trip through Ultimate after researching many group trips online. This one had a nice balance of culture and education about Thailand mixed with a lot, and I mean A LOT of fun. There were about 35 people in our group, and I was the only American, which I really enjoyed. I learned a lot about myself while traveling with this group, and I’ve already seen growth within myself in so many ways. Maybe this just also comes with age, but I am more in tune with my personal wants and needs as a human, and what makes me happy.img_0250As much as I loved being in a group, there were so many times I just needed to be alone and would venture off and do my own thing. This is the first time I recognized growth, because I never used to be like that.  I would always be worrying about what everyone else was doing, but this time…I just did what I needed to do to stay sane.

I made an effort to get to know everyone in the group even though I felt really close with certain people.  I only felt a bit of social anxiety the first night, but it quickly dissipated, and I was really happy that I was able to feel so comfortable so quickly- Both with myself and with others. It was an absolutely incredible experience, I did things I would have never done before like tubing through a jungle and jumping off a 2 story boat into the blue lagoon, but it was a great start to this journey, and I am so happy I did it.img_1371We started in Bangkok and did a day and half visiting temples and partying on Khaosan Road. For anyone traveling to Bangkok..do NOT stay longer than 2 or 3 days MAX. I became claustrophobic, and feel like I wasted days from my time in Thailand. Bangkok is a crowded city, there is a ton of traffic, and it’s very polluted.  Definitely great to visit for a couple days, but not one of my favorite cities what so ever. I’m happy I was able to see temples I have always wanted to see, but I was done with Bangkok after 3 days.img_9516

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img_9656I found that out of my entire trip so far, Bangkok has been the best place for street food.  Even though it is touristy, you can usually find vendors on most street corners.  However, after a while, the smells were really starting to get to me.  I experimented some, but ended up needing Western food after a while.img_9663

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img_9701We then boarded a sleeper train to Koh Sak.  Again, another experience i am happy yo have had, but definitely not the most luxurious. I had the top bunk, which was basically the width of my body, and getting up in the middle of the night to use the restroom was no easy feat. However, I got more sleep than I expected considering they don’t turn the lights off, you literally can’t move or you will fall off, and the train stops constantly through out the 12 hours to pick up and drop off passengers.9b70d65f-1f81-445c-834f-65d9182184a2

img_9752But it was so worth it when we boarded the junker boat to get to our raft houses. The scenery was everything I saw in pictures and on TV. Beautiful mountains and cliffs, islands, and dark green water. Our raft house was about 30 minutes from the dock, and the resort was quiet, serene, and absolutely breath taking. We spent our time swimming, canoeing, sun bathing, drinking beers, and laughing. Seriously…my favorite time from this entire trip was Koh Sak and disconnecting with the outside world.  It was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen.img_9801

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fullsizerenderThis is where I really started to try and be comfortable with myself.  There is no way to not be in a bathing suit 24/7 here.  And as self conscious as I am, I learned to embrace my body and try my hardest to enjoy just being there in the moment instead of what I looked like. This entire trip has been a challenge to be comfortable in my own skin, but I’m working on it every day.img_9958The resort gave us all you can eat authentic Thai lunch and dinners, and it was probably the best food I’ve had the entire time I have been in Thailand. Lots of vegetables and curries and seafood. Flavorful, and nothing really too obscure.img_9814We then took a bus to the monkey temple for a quick stop to feed the monkeys, and then made our way to Koh Sak village which is in the jungle. Really quaint little town, and our hotel was lovely. The first time the shower was actually separated from the toilet. Yes, typically here the shower is in the same stall as the toilet.  You are literally showering over the toilet.  Which to some, could be quite convenient.

We went tubing through the jungle and swung on ropes into the water. I didn’t think I would enjoy it as much as I did, but it was such an incredible experience. img_9951That night we had dinner at the hotel and made our way to the reggae bar down the street for many many drinks and a fire show.  I let myself relax a little more this night since we were staying in this small village, and this ended up being one of my favorite nights with the group from this trip.img_2239

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img_9995Feeling a bit hungover from the night before, we loaded up into vans and headed to Krabi where we got on a 2 hour ferry ride to the small island of Koh Phi Phi. Getting on and off the ferries here in the islands can be a bit chaotic.  There really are no rules in Thailand and everything is sort of done in backwards ways. The ferry rides are nice and a great way to island hop, but travel days can be exhausting.  It’s hot, its crowded, you’re constantly picking up and putting down your back pack.  I always felt a bit of a mess on travel days. img_0036

img_0370The tripis always worth it when you get to the island you’re going to.  Phi Phi had beautiful bright green water, clear skies, and mountains that I just can’t get enough of. This town is very touristy, and it did remind me of some of the spring break places we have back home, but the views are quite spectacular. I took advantage of the hills for a nice workout and made my way up to the Phi Phi view point a couple times to take in the view of the island from up above.  img_0155

img_0254The food is somewhat basic..you can find pizza every five feet, all you can eat BBQ, Mexican, you name it..they have it. I have noticed that Thailand does not do whole grain, whole wheat, or brown anything. It’s white bread, white rice, and not many healthy options for snacks. It’s been a little difficult not having the usual salads that I’m used to at home, but I’m making the most of it and trying to find a balance here. I know it won’t be like this everywhere, but it was difficult to eat healthy while in Phi Phi.

We did a day trip to Maya Bay, where ‘The Beach’ was filmed, hit up a rooftop bar for beer pong and music, and danced the weekend nights away at the beach party. All the bars on the beach open up and have great music and it just becomes one big club. It was a dress rehearsal for The Full Moon Party.img_0178

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img_0333 I ran into some solo American travelers while on the ferry over to Koh Phi Phi and met up with them on one of our free nights from the group. They ended up being on the same bus and ferry as us going to Koh Phanang, and I imagine this happens often when traveling. You meet people along the way and keep running into them and make life long friends or just friends for the day. Either way, we had a blast, and I’m glad I had the opportunity to meet them.  When I ended up meeting up with one of them again in Koh Tao after my trip was over, it really made me start to wonder why and how certain people come in our lives at certain times for a reason.  I’m finding that to be a trend on this trip.img_0336On Monday we took a 2 hour ferry back to Krabi, a taxi to the bus station, a 3 hour bus across the peninsula and then a 2 hour ferry to Koh Phanang and a 30 min taxi ride to our resort. I hate days wasted from traveling, but when doing this sort of adventure from one side of the peninsula to the other, you really have no choice. This was probably one of the hardest days for me so far on this trip.  As happy as I was to be in Koh Phangan, a quieter island than Phi Phi, I was tired, hot, sweaty, covered in sunscreen, bug spray, and covered in hundreds of mosquito bites.

We arrived at our beautiful backpackers resort that had small villas, a big sitting area, a bar, a pool, and lots of fun activities. I HIGHLY reccomend Shiralea to anyone traveling to Koh Phangan.  It’s located on the north west part of the island, and it’s quiet, beautiful, the staff is very friendly, it’s clean, and just a wonderful place to relax yet also have fun, and it’s only a 2 minute walk from the beach!img_0785

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img_0635I started to hit a wall at this point on the trip.  I was so hot all the time and my entire body was covered in mosquito bites.  I had to take some time away from the group, at times, over the next few days to sort of regroup.  This was the point I wasn’t sure I could really handle the next few months traveling.  I’m tired of sleeping in a sleep sack, scratching at mosquito bites, sharing a bathroom and sleeping area with other people, and sleeping and changing in a top bunk bed.  I’m constantly in a state of sweat, and being around the same people for 10 days can wear on you.  But I carried on, and we celebrated the lantern festival and set off both floating lanterns  in the water and lanterns into the sky, attended the Full Moon Party, had a BBQ, played beer pong, and enjoyed a beautiful farewell sunset dinner on the beach.img_0583

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img_0808The  lantern festival was emotional for me because I want so much for myself on this trip and setting off positive energy and wishes into the universe is so important.  The Full Moon party is about 15-20,000 people who come to party and dance on the beach in Koh Phangan.  All the bars open up on the beach and it’s just one big drunk fest.  It was definitely fun to attend once, but not something I ever care to do again.  I enjoy festivals and parties like no other, but this was outrageous.  Of course, I was amazed at all the food offered all around the beach that night..spring rolls, pizzas, sandwiches, donuts, wraps.  America needs to get on this at festivals!img_0784I had some free time where I started to feel like myself again.  I treated myself to a massage on the beach ($8!!!) and a day of just enjoying the ocean while booking my hostel for my next destination, and my flight to Chiang Mai.  It was nice to be alone again.  img_4165

img_0790There are more restaurants than street food in Koh Phangan, but you can still find a nice balance of Thai and Western Food.  I typically did fruit and yogurt for breakfasts, and loaded up on papaya salads.  I’m still on the hunt for the best one here in Thailand.  I find them refreshing, spicy, and filling.  I can’t get enough of them.fullsizerender-2

img_0789I left my group yesterday and made my way to Ko Tao, another small island here in Thailand.  It was bittersweet to leave a group of 35 people I became so close to, but I know I will feel this way often on the trip.  As you travel you meet so many people along the way and it’s hard to not become attached, but as I mentioned earlier, you make life long friends, or just day friends.  You realize that we all are humans and have the same desire to be out here.  I enjoy the times I had with this group so much and cherish every moment getting to know them and laughing so hard I cried.

I made my way over here with Helen, one of the girls on my trip,  as we are both spreading our wings and flying solo now.  fullsizerenderI already love Koh Tao so much, and am so excited to start really solo traveling.  Even though I was traveling in a group I met other travelers a long the way and was able to hook up with one in Koh Tao.  We spent the day riding around the island on a scooter, snorkeling, swimming in a swanky hotel pool (yes I stayed in a real hotel for a night), and checking out the Koh Tao nightlife.  I keep thinking every day is going to be hard and scary, but every day really does keep getting better in its own way.  You will have ups and downs, but you learn how to handle each situation and you keep moving forward.  The scenery is beautiful here, and every day is different.  It’s the best part of this experience.  And I can’t wait to see what tomorrow will bring!img_0870

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~Lauren

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