The Land of Smiles

(Kendall wrote the first half of this post, Taylor wrote the last half ☺️)

Thailand is billed as the “Land of Smiles”, and although other countries’ monikers often fall short of their true nature, Thailand truly showed us unending kindness, compassion and good-humored people as we traveled through it for almost a month.

After our monthlong trekking adventure in the highest of mountains, then spending several days in one of the biggest (and muggiest) cities in Asia, we were really looking forward to days on the beach, drinks in hand, watching the sun go down over the Andaman Sea. Almost within minutes of stepping off the plane into Krabi, Thailand, Taylor and I had cold drinks, swimming suits purchased, and real estate claimed on the beach of Ao Nang.

We just happened to land in Thailand on the day of one of their most popular holidays, the Loi Krathong festival. This long running celebration tosses aside the bad from the past year and welcomes in the new. To do this, you build (or purchase) a small float made of coconut husk and banana leaves, decorated with flowers, incense and candles. You release it into the water and hope for a blessed new year. It was a great way to be introduced to the Thai culture!

Seemingly endless amounts of Thai longtail boats zipped in and out of the cove, carrying passengers to nearby islands and beaches, such as the famed Railay beach which was right next door. Although we skipped Railay this time, preferring to save our climbing energy for Vietnam, we did book a 4 Islands Tour for the next day.

We would recommend this very popular tour to anyone who likes to snorkel and enjoy some beach time! Although we did get left by the boat one time (we were really into our snorkeling), it was fun exploring some small islands off the coast and seeing the array of aquatic life.

After our short time in Ao Nang, we grabbed a tuktuk and headed to our “fancy” hotel, which we had booked in advance for our anniversary weekend and had been looking forward to for months!

The crystal clear pool, free juice, luxurious room and private beachfront were a welcome treat after a month of dorm-style living and minimalist quarters.

Days of relaxing by the pool, sipping drinks and sea kayaking quickly slipped by, and it was time to head to our first island!

Our destination of Koh Lipe came about in a funny way-about a week before we left on our trip, Tay and I got lunch with my good friend Alexis at a Thai restaurant. Excited for our upcoming trip, I asked the owner what his favorite place in Thailand was and he quickly answered Koh Lipe. Ever since then, we had made it a must-see destination.

It did not disappoint! Although more overrun with tourists and businesses directed at said tourists than we expected, we still found a little slice of paradise.

We stayed several nights at an eco-village, which means that they are focusing on minimizing the impact their business has on the environment and encouraging tourists who visit to be just as mindful. Our accommodations were a simple bamboo hut and mosquito net, which we actually really enjoyed as we could listen to rain falling outside. The village also had its own private beach, lounging area and bar, where we spent several nights chatting with the British expat owner and her Thai husband. By the end of our time there, we were both offered jobs as snorkeling guides and had to seriously consider it! I mean look at the place!

Although it was more discovered and developed than we expected, our accommodations on Koh Lipe really made our stay special!

Next up, we boarded another speedboat (still in disbelief that neither of us had gotten seasick by this point) and headed north to Koh Muk, an even smaller and lesser known island where we were seeking a genuine Thai fishing village experience.

Tay and I have decided this was our favorite island of the three. Our hostel was simple, set back from the main road, and within walking distance to the local restaurants. Villagers went to school, built boats, and brought in their haul as we walked across the island. Beaches with pristine clear water and devoid of the usual hawkers of tourist wares were a welcome experience.

We hired our own private longtail boat for a day and explored the Emerald Cave (a secret beach that requires swimming through a dark tunnel) and snorkeled at several different points around the island.

Our driver was Mr. Chen, and he even jumped in the water with us several times to show us cool stuff that our Western eyes were completely missing. Multiple times he would come up from the bottom with an excited smile on his face or a starfish in his hand, clearly so happy to be sharing a piece of his island with us.

Our third and final stop on our island hopping tour was Koh Lanta, more frequented by tourists and by far the largest of the three islands we visited. We were lucky enough to find a hostel right on a beautiful 4km long white sandy beach that also housed a variety of bars, restaurants and shops. We were even witness to a fire dancing “show” one night by what I can only describe as a clear novice dancer as he lit his pants on fire at one point and had to quickly dive into the sand to extinguish himself. We both decided to decline his offer to participate in the show after that. Regardless, we had a lovely time on our porch front beach.

One of the big reasons Kendall and I have both fallen so in love with Thailand is the food. Whether it’s curries, spicy soups, or fresh papaya salad, Thai food is unbelievable. In an attempt to take a bit of this culinary culture home with us we took a Thai cooking class taught by a hilarious woman named Mai. We learned quite a lot in the four hour class including how to balance flavors. We learned that there are four main flavors in Thai food that should be present in every dish: sweetness from sugar, sour from lime juice, spicy from chili peppers, and salty from fish sauce. These four basic flavors can combine in many ways to create unique and delicious dishes. We also learned that there are certain ingredients in Thai food that you aren’t supposed to eat (whoops!), that a perfect curry paste is made sitting on the ground, and that Southern Thai people love their chili peppers. It was a great experience and we’re very excited to cook for friends and family in a few months!

Kendall’s beautiful curry and fish

Our amazing instructor Mai!

Kendall and I have been together just about every moment for this trip and decided to spend a day having our own adventures. Kendall took a day long kayak and cave exploring trip which took her through several cave systems, requiring climbing up ladders made of old car tires, paddling through low stalactites, and soaking in beautiful limestone cliffs. It was a day full of arm exercises for sure! I opted to check off a bucket list item for myself and went scuba diving on a nearby island. It was one of the most surreal and beautiful experiences I’ve ever had and am very grateful for my patient and on-point instructor, Astrid, for her never ending guidance and reassurance. And also to the giant Moray eels for not eating me.

Kayak adventure!

Tay and all the fishes

Bangkok! What a busy and bustling city, and with nearly 10 million people it’s easy to see why. We stayed outside of the typical tourist area in a Bangkok neighborhood and walked nearly everywhere we went. Major highlights included seeing the giant reclining Buddha at Wat Pho, the extremely detailed Wat Arun temple, visiting Chinatown, and meeting up with some friends from home for drinks overlooking the city. We also experienced a fun city wide bike riding event that the King of Thailand led. Major streets were closed for the day and the military was prominently out which made for a great day of people watching for us.

Amazing ceramic detail at Wat Arun

The gigantic reclining Buddha in Wat Pho

Overlooking the city from a rooftop bar

One of the most exciting parts of Bangkok was Kendall getting a new tattoo. Most tattoos in the states are created using an electric tattoo “gun” with needles quickly inserted in and out of the skin, but in typical Thai style, Kendall received hers by with a bamboo needle (it was sterile Kim!) being manipulated by hand. The design is called a paed tidt yant.

Sak Yant tattoos are an ancient and refined practice of artwork in Thailand. Enrobed with protections, prayers and mantras, these symbols grant the bearer certain protections and strengths. They are applied onto the skin using the traditional Thai bamboo style of tattooing, which involves a long rod and single needle as opposed to a mechanized tattoo gun. Her new artwork protects her in all 8 directions of the universe as she travels through life, while the arrows at the center point at the symbol for kindness. This was truly an incredible experience, and symbolic of her journey thus far through an amazing section of the world.

A metal rod is used to hold the bamboo needle and give leverage for poking to the artist

The finished product

After an absolutely wonderful three weeks in Thailand we bid farewell to the land of smiles with two very big smiles of our own.

7 Comments

  1. OMG! What Can I say, Thailand sounds unbelievable! The many islands you visited, people you met, food you ate, adventures you went on, and the memories together (and apart) just sound absolutely wonderful. Kendall, can’t wait to see the new tat in person! Tay, so happy you got to get a bucket list item checked off. Can’t wait for you both to cook us dinner from what you learned! xoxo

Leave a Reply