This trip was born partly out of my love of Asia, partly out of Adam’s desire to see ancient ruins and mostly out of the realization that this will be my last year with free international upgrades from my status with American Airlines. So, knowing that each flight was close to 15 hours, I knew this would be the perfect use of my final few upgrades.
Alas, our trip was born – and here are the deets:
- Chicago – Hong Kong
- Hong Kong – Bangkok
- Bangkok – Siem Reap
- Siem Reap – Phuket
- Phuket – Chiang Mai
- Chiang Mai – Hong Kong
- Hong Kong – Chicago
All in 11 days. Are you tired yet? And if you’re wondering, we planned the whole itinerary ourselves (cough I did it all cough), so there was a LOT of research and pre-planning logistics involved, but it was so worth it. And with that, here we go!
Day 1 & 2 – Away we go!
We wanted to maximize our time in Thailand and Cambodia, so we didn’t get to spend any time in Hong Kong. But, after being pampered on our flight from Chicago to Hong Kong (seriously, they gave us pajamas!) via our free upgrades, we felt well rested and ready to take on our next flight over to Bangkok.
We arrived in Bangkok and were greeted with HEAT. Heat that I have honestly never felt before…not even in AZ visiting my parents. It was HUMID and I knew we’d be in for a wild ride since we are two people who sweat profusely!
Pro tip: I got major heat rash on the trip (which is no surprise for me), but the normal anti-itch medicines did nothing. Thankfully, a friend told me about this Prickly Heat Powder…and it was a miracle worker!
Anyway, one of the reasons I am so in love with Asia is that it is complete and utter culture shock from what we’re used to in America. The sights, sounds, smells and overall lifestyle – it’s all completely different and I find that fascinating! It’s just no bullshit. So simple, raw and beautiful to me. Bangkok was no exception.
I should probably mention now that traveling to Thailand and Cambodia is VERY affordable. You can get dirt-cheap accommodations or luxury accommodations for normal prices. And, if you know me, you know that I am fiercely loyal to Starwood. So, this trip was filled with incredible SPG properties for incredibly affordable prices. We rolled up to the St. Regis Bangkok and immediately felt bliss amid the chaos.
We were absolutely exhausted from traveling 30+ hours, but we did venture out with the high hopes of getting Adam a new camera battery and charger (someone left theirs at home) and some dinner. We made it as far as the camera battery, charger and some bubble tea before deciding that we needed to order room service and crash for the night. Lame, I know.
Day 3 – Bangkok
This was a big day for us. We organized a private tour with Thai Tour Guide because we wanted to see SO many of the sights in such a short amount of time. We started at 7am and as a result, got to visit our first destination, Wat Pho, without any other tourists! It was beyond gorgeous.
And then we got to see a giant reclining Buddha!
After that, we went to the Grand Palace. Here’s the deal. This place was stunning and had so much to see, but due to the Thai King’s recent passing, as well as an early closing to re-dress the Emerald Buddha in his Summer wear, it was PACKED and HOT. We made the rounds as quickly as we could before exiting stage right.
We then drove about 70 miles outside of the city to visit the Damnern Saduak Floating Market, but we took an awesome detour to tour the local floating villages via long-tail boat. It was an exhilarating experience – and fascinating to get a sense of local life.
After that, we went into a rowboat to visit the Floating Market. The name is dead on – it’s literally a market where people sell flowers, fruits, and vegetables from their boats – and they also even cook entire meals like BBQ pork and Mango sticky rice in their boats. I was highly impressed with their skills!
Afterwards, we headed to our last stop, the Maeklong Railway Market. At first glance, this just looks like any old market…then you realize as you’re walking through it that you’re walking on railroad tracks. And then, you actually see all of the vendors scramble to move their produce, and then a train drive right through the middle. So cool!
We covered a lot of ground and were absolutely exhausted. But, we still had food on the brain. Delicious Thai food to be exact. I read about a million different places that I wanted to go and then it hit me…Thai Food Tour! With the help of a quick Google we found Bangkok Food Tours and signed up for their Night Food Tour. I was nervous that they would make me eat bugs, but the food options were much more normal.
If you know me at all, you’re probably wondering how the heck I rallied for this, but I did and we met the crew to get the food party started. And the best part, we rode between each destination in style…in a Tuk Tuk!
As you can probably sense, this experience was hands down the best part of Bangkok. Our Tuk Tuk driver cranked up the tunes and we cruised the streets of Bangkok at night at what felt like warp speeds. I was having so much fun that I didn’t even want to get out and eat….like who am I? Gladly, I did finally get out and had some incredible food al fresco. I have no idea what the place was called, or frankly what I ate, but my mouth was on fire and my soul was happy. The aftermath.
After that, we went to what can only be described as heaven – and ate this noodle amazingness. I am very glad we ate before getting the “kitchen tour” considering the kitchen was in the back alley. But whatever they’re doing in that alley is perfection.
It was then time to go explore the Night Flower Market, which smelled heavenly. We also passed by a street vendor selling bugs and Mr. Windhorst indulged. I even have video proof.
We hopped into our next destination, which was the same temple we were at earlier in the morning – Wat Pho! This time, we were also able to explore without anyone else and it was incredible to see the same temple by day – and lit up by night.
It was then time to hit up their “secret spot” – a rooftop bar with a heavenly view of the Chao Phraya River and Wat Arun. If you haven’t caught on by now, “Wat” means “Temple” in Thai. We had some local brews and asked ourselves if the rest of the trip would live up to this incredible day.
But, that’s not all, folks. We still had our last stop – to Bangkok’s famous Thip Samai Pad Thai. I really wish I had not shoved my face full of food everywhere else because I really wanted to eat more of the Pad Thai. We dined al fresco here as well (one of my favorite parts of our Bangkok tour).
I left the tour feeling so disappointed we were leaving Bangkok the next morning, but so grateful for the experience.
Day 4 & 5 – Siem Reap
Read all about our adventures at Angkor Wat and in Cambodia here.
Day 6 – Phuket
We flew to Phuket for our relaxation portion of the trip. I have to say, we debated for a LONG time on where to stay at in Phuket. There are just SO many options and we read that Phuket was very, very popular (and touristy). When we found The Naka Island, a hotel on an island (only accessible by boat), we knew we had a winner. It had gorgeous views, a beach, free ice cream by the pool and an incredible sunset view from the rooms. Oh, and did I mention these were private villas, each with their own pool? SOLD! Yes, this was our splurge hotel, but it was also SPG so we’d be getting some major points.
I have never actually taken a boat to a hotel, but it was so freaking cool! We arrived on the jetty, got to ring a gong and then headed to our villa. And holy s!$t was it incredible. I knew immediately I was not ever going to want to leave.
Naka Island has an awesome perk for SPG Platinum Members – free drinks at their bar for 2 hours before sunset. Surprise! We got our drink on. And double-fisted…island style (aka cocktail + coconut).
The next day we indulged in the insane brunch and then I got my first scrub/ massage/ facial combo (sorry, not sorry…plus, I had major heat rash so I needed to heal my skin, ok?!)
Another awesome perk of this Resort is they offer free activities throughout the day – so we did a cooking class! They taught us how to make Green Curry, which I have now fallen completely in love with.
We then decided it was time to take full advantage of our villa’s pool. We had room service deliver a few (ok maybe a lot) of local beers and parked our butts in the pool pretty much all day and for sunset.
The (only) downside of being on Naka Island (if you’re thinking about going) is that getting off the island requires a boat ride and there is only 1 other restaurant outside of the hotel (and it closes at 5:30pm), so we were limited in our dinner options. But, you know us, we certainly didn’t go hungry! We found seafood BBQ and were lights out in the most amazing bed.
Day 7 – Phuket
We wanted to stay and enjoy our pool again, but that this area is world-famous for tons of gorgeous islands with limestone cliffs and white sand beaches. But, we learned on this trip that we really don’t like places overrun with tourists, so we opted for an excursion to Koh Hong Island near Krabi (instead of the most famous Phi Phi Islands and James Bond Island) because it was just as beautiful, but far less crowded. We set out on our day of kayaking, snorkeling and beaching (is that a word?!) I will definitely let the photos do the talking on this one!
I was feeling all of the feels after this day, especially after being able to cruise back on the top deck in Adam’s arms, with the wind in my hair, watching the sunset over all of the gorgeous small islands in the Andaman Sea. Life. Is. Good.
Day 8 – Chiang Mai
I really wasn’t sure what to expect of Chiang Mai, other than it being in Northern Thailand, closer to the mountains and where many elephants live. In doing research, I found out that there are a TON of ex-Pats and it’s a very well-liked city. Many people told me how much they liked it, but no one could really say why. After being there, I totally get it. It is a special place – with temples and markets galore – and with (very clean) streets that you could just spend hours and hours roaming. And most importantly, it was hot, but NOT HUMID! Adam and I stepped out of the airport and felt pure weather bliss!
We headed to our hotel to do a quick change, but then were heading out to do a Thai cooking class at Zabb E. Lee. Our first stop was to a local market to learn about all of the local produce and pick up the ingredients we’d be cooking with.
From there, we arrived at the class and had an ABSOLUTE BLAST. The instructors were amazing, but more importantly, we learned how to make a ton of different Thai foods from start to finish and they tasted incredible. Here are the highlights!
Day 9 – Chiang Mai
We were nearing exhaustion, but this was the day we’ve been waiting for – ELEPHANTS!
I am just going to be honest, but I had no idea about how much elephant abuse there is in the world (much of it concentrated in Thailand) until a friend suggested that we visit a humane elephant camp. I did a TON of research and found Elephant Nature Park – a sanctuary that is not only humane, but rescues abused elephants from other camps or shows and works to rehab them and give them a better life.
We signed up for a special program where we got to hang out with the elephants for a day, teaching them that humans can be kind. We got to feed them, hike with them, take a mud bath with them, clean them in the river and then feed them again. They say that you can see an elephant’s soul through their eyes. These elephants were kind, caring, compassionate and sassy as hell! I loved each and every one of them and did NOT want to leave at the end of the day. Spoiler alert: I left…
Day 10 & 11 – Traveling Home & Reflecting
Sadly, we started our journey back home with a flight to Hong Kong, overnight in Hong Kong and then connecting flight back to Chicago. We had a long flight home, so I had plenty of time to watch many Harry Potter movies (!) and look through photos of our amazing trip.
I absolutely cannot pick a favorite destination or memory from this trip, no matter how hard I try. Traveling is always a humbling and enlightening experience, but especially this trip. We saw so much poverty, but so many smiles. We saw such chaos, but so much love and faith. Preservation of the past AND appreciation of the present. Each and every experience during this trip enriched my life in ways I really can’t put into words here. I kept finding myself using the phrase “my soul is happy” because even when my body was crying of heat rash, I looked around and found so much appreciation for life – I kept finding myself smiling from within. That, my friends, is the reason I travel. It’s the reason I spend so much time, energy and money seeing the world. Because travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.