Tag Archives: Thailand

Tattoos in Thailand

8 Jan

I am a HUGE fan of tattoos. They are a great way to express something about yourself. They are very, very addictive and, of course, permanent. Not that the latter bothers me.

Naturally, I wanted to get a tattoo as soon as I got to Thailand. In fact, I ended up getting two.

The first tattoo I got was in Chiang Mai. I had obviously done my research on tattoo shops in foreign countries and I therefore made sure I felt completely comfortable with the place that I chose. For me, it wasn’t about the cheapness of tattoos that you can easily find on Khao San Road in little side shops that might not be reputable. Rather, it was about the tattoo and the experience itself and I knew that Dejavu Tattoo in Chiang Mai was right for me. For anyone who has been to Chiang Mai, you probably know where the Roots Rock Reggae Bar is located in Chiang Mai. Well, Dejavu is in that little square, as well as in a few other locations around Chiang Mai. I had a choice between a regular machine-applied tattoo or traditional bamboo tattooing. I chose the latter because I thought that it would be a cultural experience in and of itself. They charged per hour and bamboo cost a little bit more than machine: 3000 baht/hour, which is about 95 USD. So it was basically the same price that it would have been if I got the tattoo in Canada, but I like to think I paid more for the security and comfort of a safe, clean parlour. You only need to book like a day or two in advance, but it’s a pretty busy tattoo business so don’t expect to get a walk-in appointment like I attempted to do. Anyway, I decided to get the tattoo on my foot. I got my last name translated in Thai (and I know it was accurate!). I got it written in Thai because I love how Thai script looks. It’s so beautiful. The artist also added a traditional Thai flower. Out of all 5 tattoos that I have, this turned out to be my favourite. It also turned out to be the most painful tattoo I ever got done! It was absolutely brutal. It literally felt like someone was scraping at my foot with a blade. But, I’ve heard that foot tattoos are quite painful so I guess I should’ve expected that.

The second tattoo I got was on a complete whim. I met this guy in Cambodia who had this Buddhist, Thai tattoo between his shoulder blades and I instantly fell in love with it. It was so intricate and beautifully symmetrical. It reminded of another tattoo actually. I’m sure most know about the infamous Buddhist monk tattoo that Angelina Jolie has. Well, after doing a little research I actually found that her tattoo and my friend’s tattoo are two of many variations of Sak Yant tattooing practiced in Southeast Asian countries. Angelina Jolie has the popular Hah Taew (The 5 Sacred Lines) tattoo which is intended to help the bearer in different aspects of his or her life. The one I got is also very common and it is known as Gao Yord (9 spires) which symbolizes Buddha and intends to bless the bearer with protection and good luck. Now, I actually did get this tattoo on Khao San Road in Bangkok. Again, I did some research to make sure I was choosing a reputable tattoo shop. I ended up heading to YMK Tattoo, a small but professional studio on Khao San Road (it’s kind of hidden in one of the little alleyways, fyi). This tattoo was cheaper than the one in Chiang Mai simply because there is room for bargaining. The tattoo artist doesn’t speak English, but the receptionist speaks great English and was very helpful. I loved this tattoo because it was hand drawn by the artist and the imperfections were kind of what I was looking for.

Getting tattoos in Thailand was a great cultural experience because of the bamboo technique that was used. The artists literally use a thin stick of bamboo that has a point at the end which they dip in ink. Then they (very precisely) stab your skin over and over. It is surprisingly less painful than machine tattoos AND bamboo tattoos heal almost immediately. Mine didn’t scab at all. It was bizarre.

Talk about a souvenir that will have an everlasting impression on you. These are definitely two of my favourite souvenirs from travelling! I’m hoping to add to the collection as my travels take me to different countries around the world!

 

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My Favourite Places in Southeast Asia

4 Jan

Here is a list I compiled of my favourite places in Southeast Asia. It was a trip of a lifetime and although I had amazing experiences in each place that I visited, these five places stand out to me the most.

In no particular order…

 1) Chiang Mai, Thailand

Chiang Mai was the city I visited where I could most see myself living in. It was vibrant and bustling. It had a good nightlife. It felt safe enough for me to navigate the streets by myself on cheaply-rented motorbikes. It was easy to quickly feel like a local and I loved that. There’s a university. There’s a zoo in the mountains. There’s temples and tigers. Elephants and expats. Boxing and night bazaars. Bad karaoke. Cheap beer. Cheap food. I quickly fell into a pattern in Chiang Mai and, soon enough, I had stayed there longer than I had originally planned.

2) Vang Vieng, Laos

Vang Vieng just gets me. One thing I definitely regret was not staying longer. One obvious reason is tubing. The first day I went tubing was quite possible the funnest day I have had in my life. Free Lao Lao whiskey shots (albeit watered-down). Cheap buckets. Beer pong on the river bars. Loud music that makes you want to dance. Exhilaratingly dangerous water slides. New friends that you won’t remember tomorrow. Cuts and bruises that you can’t explain. It is truly a shitshow. A twenty-something party haven. I also loved Vang Vieng because of the chilled-out atmosphere in the town. Literally every restaurant played Friends and Family Guy reruns and the decor consisted of these lounge-like wooden couch/table combos with ugly cushions — the perfect way to nurse a hangover (which actually started to become nonexistent with all the drinking). I accidentally badly electrocuted myself and I even broke my beloved camera in Vang Vieng, but it didn’t take anything away from my love for this wonderful backpacker town.

3) Koh Phangan, Thailand

My time on the island of Koh Phangan was a huge blur. I think that directly correlates with the amount of fun I had there. Before my trip, I had read a lot of negative blog posts and reviews on Koh Phangan saying that it was a beautiful island ruined by tourists. I had so much fun there though. Koh Phangan really does cater to tourists because of the infamous Full Moon Party held on Haad Rin (beach) every month on, you guessed it, the full moon; however, I loved that it was made for tourists because it literally brought thousands of different people and cultures together for one night. While the night of the full moon was one to remember, every night in Koh Phangan was a constant party. In fact, the lead up nights to the Full Moon Party were actually better than Full Moon itself. Friends reruns and movies like The Notebook dominate the TV screens in the restaurants. It was entirely possible to easily find chicken schnitzel at 7 in the morning after staying up all night. I fell in love with sunrises. I became somewhat of an artist, painting everyone in my hostel with neon colours for Full Moon. My week in Koh Phangan was the best in my entire 7 week trip.

 4) Siem Reap, Cambodia

I liked Siem Reap significantly more than Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh. Cambodia was so incredibly poor and Siem Reap was no exception. Siem Reap was such a small city and so I quickly got used to where everything was. Tourists are drawn to Siem Reap because of the wonderful temples of Angkor Wat but, while not exploring the temples, I found myself drawn to the popular Pub Street in town. I found myself there every single night and, like in Chiang Mai, I ended up staying a lot longer than I had originally planned to. I took cooking classes on Pub Street where I made the best meal I have ever had, pumpkin soup. I ate crocodile, frog, and other mystery meats that I got to cook at my table in a restaurant. I became pretty much known by name at Angkor What?! Bar. I made some really great friends. I danced on tables. I helped cute Cambodian kids practice their English. I got ripped off by locals on several occasions. I experienced extreme poverty up close. Cambodia was definitely a huge eye-opener, but I easily found a kind of comfort in Siem Reap.

5) Bangkok, Thailand

Bangkok currently holds the spot as my favourite city in the world. I love, love, love Bangkok. There’s just something about it. The hustle and bustle. The cheap street food. Huge bottles of Chang beer for 150 baht. Hostels across from Khao San Road for 150 baht a night. Bucket bars on Khao San Road. Cheap knock offs. $5 massages. Khao San Road in general. Tuk tuks (which I hated at first). The huge shopping mall, MBK. Watching the traffic. The Saturday Market. There are so many things about Bangkok that I love. It felt like home to me, not because I think I could live there, but because of the way I felt every time I returned there (4 times in one trip). I left Cambodia 3 days earlier than I planned just so I could spend my last few days in this wonderful city. There really is something for everyone in Bangkok and I think that it can easily become whatever you want it to be.

I would return to these five places in a heartbeat. I would also recommend these places to anyone in a heartbeat. But, I do see one common theme here. These are places where I had really great experiences because of really great people that I met and shared them with. So, it makes me wonder, would I love these places as much as I do if I experienced them with different people? I like to think that I would. And, maybe, one day I will return and find out for sure!

Chilling With Elephants in Chiang Mai

1 Jan

One of the activities I was most looking forward to during my time Southeast Asia was the chance to hang out with elephants in Thailand!

Chiang Mai seemed like the perfect place to do this.

After looking into my options, I decided to visit the Elephant Nature Park. If I had to do it again, I would’ve chosen a different company, but I want to emphasize that Elephant Nature Park is a really great organization. It is an elephant rescue and rehabilitation centre in northern Thailand where the workers and volunteers provide a natural environment for the elephants as well as for some other rescued animals.

I went with the full day tour for 2500 baht, which is about 80 USD. It included the pick-up from my hostel, a huge buffet lunch, time to feed the elephants and time to ‘bathe’ with the elephants. They don’t offer riding the elephants as it is an elephant rescue organization and that seems unfair to the big, beautiful animals. We also got to watch a video about how the organization got started, how it operates, and what it hopes to accomplish.

While this day trip would be ideal for many people, it wasn’t ideal for me because it wasn’t what I hoped for when I envisioned trekking with elephants. There were a lot of families there with young children and I think Elephant Nature Park is perfect for a family vacation.

For me, it was a little underwhelming for the price I was paying. I know 2500 baht doesn’t seem too pricey for a full day trip, but compared to some of the other options I had, it just didn’t quite measure up. My favourite part of the day was definitely feeding the elephants, but that didn’t really last long and you never really had much one-on-one interaction with the elephants as your tour group was quite large. The biggest disappointment, though, was bathing the elephants. I wanted to actually swim with and bathe the elephants, but it was pretty much just fifty or so people filling small buckets with water and splashing them on the elephants, which lasted only about 20 minutes.

I love what the organization is doing. I really do. It just wasn’t what I hoped for.

This taught me one big lesson: stop planning so much.

I booked this tour before I even arrived in Chiang Mai based on Tripadvisor reviews. Then, I met a group of awesome people on the bus to Chiang Mai who all ended up going on an overnight elephant trek through the jungle. That would have been my ideal encounter with elephants. And, I would’ve spent it with some really great people.

On the bright side, I got some really great pictures and I met some truly amazing animals.

Elephant Nature Park wasn’t what I anticipated it would be, but it could be perfect for you. I guess it just depends on what kind of experience you’re looking for. I was looking for an adventure. But, in 20 years when if I have a family, this would likely be the perfect tour for me. It definitely was interesting experience and, besides teaching me a lot about the unfair treatment of elephants (and the insane amount of water they drink a day), this day also taught me that making concrete plans in advance really isn’t for me.

I saw a ton of elephant crap. I held an elephant tooth that was the size of my head. I spent time with a beautiful elephant who had an excruciatingly painful, broken hip. I watched baby elephants getting a ton of love from their proud mamas. It wasn’t the perfect day, but it was a good experience.

A Trip to the Hospital in Bangkok

30 Oct

I survived the crazy streets of Chiang Mai without crashing my motorbike.

I survived tubing in Vang Vieng, Laos with only a few scrapes and bruises.

I survived Khao San Road in Bangkok.

I survived the crazy Halong Bay booze cruise in Vietnam.

And then there was Koh Phangan, Thailand.

Right after I broke it

Now, I know what you’re thinking: Full Moon Party got the best of her.

But it was really Koh Phangan that got the best of me.

The night after the Full Moon Party in August, my 4th night in Koh Phangan, I broke a bone in my left foot.

Where the fateful spill took place

Let’s just say a combination of buckets and concrete did me in.

I spent a week limping through Koh Phi Phi before I decided to call my insurance.

They were great. They did everything for me. They made my appointment and told me how to get to the hospital. The insurance covered everything which was great because I wasn’t ready to call my parents asking for money because I broke a bone. They were worried enough about me traveling in general.

I went to Bumrungrad Hospital in Bangkok. It was the nicest hospital I’ve ever been in. Seriously. It was about a half hour away from Khao San Road and as soon as I pulled up in a taxi I was greeted by staff and brought into the beautifully decorated and insanely clean hospital. Bumrungrad is a great hospital for tourists. They have English-speaking doctors and a lot of the other staff spoke english as well.

After filling out some forms and getting a hospital ID card (with my picture on it! Such a cool souvenir) I was sent to another floor where I didn’t wait long before talking to a doctor. He was totally cool. He spoke english and was actually very personable. He sent me to get an x-ray and then I waited a short time before being called back into the doctor’s office.

He told me I had broken a metatarsal (the long bones that are attached to our toes) and that I would need a cast and crutches. The problem with a cast and crutches was that I still had another 2 weeks of travelling (and I would be exploring Angkor Wat in that time). So, he suggested a splint-cast which was removable and I wouldn’t need crutches because it was a walking cast.

A few nurses quickly measured my foot and put on a very fashionable, black cast. I waited for about 20 minutes for my painkillers and muscle relaxants. They offered to burn me a CD with the x-ray on it to show my doctor once I got back to Canada.

And that was it. Simple, easy, and not stressful in the slightest.

So, my hospital experience in Bangkok wasn’t so bad.

I learned that travel insurance is a very, very, very important thing to have because anything can happen.

I learned that buckets can be very dangerous, especially on Koh Phangan, and I need to be more careful when drinking in a foreign country because next time healthcare might not be easily accessible.

I learned that broken bones in feet are absolutely terrible because they take forever to heal. It is now almost 3 months since I broke it and I’m still wearing the cast (which is such a pain in the ass).

Exploring Angkor Wat on a broken foot

Most importantly, though, I was able to move past this speed bump so that I could enjoy the rest of my trip.

I learned to adapt.

Packing for Southeast Asia

28 Sep

Last time I went backpacking I packed WAY too much. The six weeks I spent in Peru last summer (2010) was my first real travel experience and I didn’t  know what to expect. I brought things that I didn’t end up using, like my blow dryer and straightener. I even brought high heels, which I never wore once. It really depends on where you’re going and how long you’re going for. If I were going to Paris or London for a month I probably would bring high heels and some more high end clothing. If I were going for six months to a year then I definitely would bring heels and hair appliances.

Not to say that you shouldn’t bring those kinds of items. To each their own. I like to bring my makeup and a lot of people disagree with this decision, but I really don’t care. If I’m more than willing to carry the extra weight then why not?

Sometimes you need to make sacrifices though. I have a huge problem packing light, especially when it comes to clothes. After packing way too much clothes last time and having to throw out a lot of things that I liked, I had to force myself to make good choices when it came to packing for 7 weeks of backpacking around Southeast Asia.

So, here is everything and anything that I brought with me to Southeast Asia.

Note: I decided not to post this until after my trip because then I could tell you what I ended up using or not and what I ended up throwing out. This is my ORIGINAL LIST with descriptions. The words written in red are some comments after the trip was done. So, here’s the list:

Clothes

  • Shorts (4)- Yes, it’s a lot but I get so much use out of all of them.
  • Jeans (1)- This is probably the biggest ‘controversial’ item of clothing in the backpacking world. Yes, it’s going to be hot in SE Asia, but I always get use out of my jeans. If I don’t? Well, they’re an old pair so I can throw them out if need be. If I ever come back to SE Asia these will not be coming with me. Didn’t wear them once!
  • Black leggings (1)- For those possibly not-so-warm nights. Threw out.

  • Tank tops (4)
  • T-shirts (3)- Only needed one.
  • Long sleeve shirt (1)- Surprisingly got use out of this.
  • Nice shirts (3)- These are shirts that I can dress up or wear casually.
  • Hoodie (1) (not pictured)- For those cold A/C bus nights and for a pillow. Tons of use.
  • Cardigans (2) (not pictured)- Didn’t get any use out of these.

  • Bathing suits (2)
  • Underwear (10)- The more underwear the better, I say.
  • Socks (3)- One white, two black
  • Bras (4)- It sucks being a girl. Strapless, black, pink, and sports bra.

Yeah, I know it may seem like a lot of clothes to bring, but I don’t mind carrying the extra weight and, plus, it all fits into these little netted bags easily which makes them much more compact. These bags were my saviour.

Footwear

  • Running shoes- Didn’t use.
  • Flip flops for shower
  • Sturdy sandals (2)

Headwear

  • The Green Sombrero (obviously)
  • Straw fedora
  • Sunglasses
  • Bandana

Electronics

  • HP Mini Netbook (and case and charger)- Best thing I brought.
  • SD memory cards (3 x 2 GB)
  • Canon Powershot (and case and charger)- Lost it’s life in Vang Vieng, Laos. Bought new, crappy, waterproof Olympus in Hanoi, Vietnam. The Olympus Tough is CRAP, by the way. The waterproof-ness was handy, but the quality of the photos was terrible.
  • iPod touch (and charger and headphones)
  • Plug adapter for SE Asia
  • Old phone for alarm (and charger)
  • USB drive (2)
  • Headlamp- SO much use!

Toiletries

  • Toothbrush/toothpaste
  • Razor
  • Soap
  • Deodorant
  • Shampoo/conditioner
  • Bug spray
  • Sunscreen- If you need a lot like I did, bring a couple bottles because sunscreen is bloody expensive in Asia.
  • Make-up
  • Body spray (for the days I have to go without showering)
  • Brush and comb- Brush broke half way in. Had that brush for 7+ years. R.I.P.
  • Bobby pins/hair ties
  • Tweezers
  • Nail clippers
  • Band-Aids- Probably went through 100+ Band-Aids.
  • Tylenol

Other

  • Journal and pens
  • Guidebook (not pictured)/phrasebook- Didn’t need the phrasebook. Knowing how to say hello, thank you and maybe a few hand gestures can easily get you through SE Asia.
  • Books (2)- So I can exchange at a book exchange- Man, do I love book exchanges.
  • Money belt- Never used this for some reason. Guess I’m a little too trusting.
  • Travel pillowcase
  • Travel towel
  • Padlock (Not pictured)
  • Gum- Can’t live without it!- Ran out 😦
  • Toilet paper- I’m sure this will be my saviour- It was.
  • Passport, insurance info and contact info- Thank God for getting travel insurance because I broke a foot bone and needed a cast!
  • Passport photos for various visas- Most places ask for 2 photos but you only need one.
  • MONEY, debit card and credit card

Bags

  • Day bag
  • Dry sack- Came in handy.
  • Shoulder bag

And everything fits into my backpack perfectly!- By the end of my trip, with souvenirs and such, my pack was overly full, especially with clothes being so cheap in SE Asia.

Once again, I wish I brought less clothes. One day I’ll learn.

And there you have it. Agree or disagree with anything?

One of the most exciting things about travel is…

31 May

…booking a flight!!!

I am excited to announce that I just booked a flight to Bangkok, Thailand!

I will be leaving YYZ (Toronto Pearson Int’l Airport) in the morning of July 17th and I will be arriving at BKK at around 11 pm on the 18th.

I’ve been planning for months, but it really just doesn’t seem completely real until it’s official.

Well, it’s official!

There’s no going back now.

I will be backpacking around Southeast Asia from July 18th to September 5th.

I am REALLY on a budget. But, this time, instead of going solo, at least half of my time there I will be traveling with a friend and we will help each other stick to our budget.

I’ve done a lot of researching and thinking about this trip and it will mostly be spent in Thailand — Bankok, Chiang Mai, Ko Pha Ngan, Phuket, Ko Phi Phi and Koh Lanta hopefully. However, I will also be heading to Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng in Laos, Hanoi in Vietnam, Siem Reap and (maybe) Sihanoukville in Cambodia, and possibly Bali. If I don’t go to Bali, then I will keep Kuala Lumpur and Penang in Malaysia as well as Singapore in my mind.

BUT, as we all know, it’s VERY hard to stick to a strict schedule as a backpacker. My original itinerary for Peru turned out to be completely different. I ended up in Bolivia! So, although I have a basic idea of where I want to go and how long I will spend in each place, the only days that I am sure of where I’ll be are Bangkok on my arrival and departure date and Ko Pha Ngan on August 14th for the Full Moon Party.

I’m excited to bathe and feed elephants in Chiang Mai, to eat crickets and drink Thai buckets on Khao San Road, to watch the sun rise over Angkor Wat, to cruise Halong Bay in Vietnam, to drink snake blood (and maybe even eat the still beating heart), to party until the sun rises in Ko Pha Ngan, to go tubing in Vang Vieng, and most importantly, to soak up the culture as best as I can in the short amount of time I have there and create memories to last a lifetime.

Other than that, who knows where this trip will take me. I’m excited, I’m ready, and I hope SE Asia is ready for us!

Meet my partner in crime, Ashley.