“A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles.”
– Tim Cahill
After six weeks of travel, Jeff and I were thrilled to have two of our best friends from home, Kait and Tierney, joining us for our two weeks in Thailand! After an enthusiastic reunion at the rooftop pool of our hotel, Buddy Lodge in Bangkok, we skipped the jetlag and began the party. It was no mistake that we booked a hotel on the backpackers haven, Khaosan Road, which we did not leave on our first day. Although the road is less than a kilometre in length, it is packed with umpteen things to do, and is buzzing and alive from dusk to dawn.
Day two we decided to take in some culture. There is a vast amount of Buddhist temples, called wats, in Bangkok; some small and others quite large. Wat Pho is one of the largest and most ornate temple complexes in Bangkok, and the one we chose to visit. The grounds of the complex are colourful, vast and house a total of 882 images and statues of Buddha. However the real pride and joy of Wat Pho is the sparkeling golden Reclining Buddha, measuring an astronomical 15m high and 46m long. An intense energy in the room can be felt as Buddhists come from far and wide to bow down in front of the gargantuan statue. It is most definitely a sight to see.
Our final day in Bangkok Jeff had come down with a bit of a flu bug, so the girls and I relaxed by the rooftop pool at our hotel while he rested in the room. By the evening he was feeling well enough to squeeze in one last street food dinner of pad thai and some bargain shopping on Khaosan Road.
An early morning flight landed us in Chiang Mai city around midday. After grabbing some lunch, the four of us set off to explore the historical centre of the country. Like many ancient cities, Chiang Mai has an old city centre surrounded by a moat and the ruins of an ancient wall, which was originally built as a defence against Burma. Although the city has grown and developed around the crumbling wall, it has remained rather small, quaint and easy to stroll around. We cracked the spine of our Lonely Planet guidebook and followed a suggested old city walking route to visit a number of lavish wats. We ended our day of wat hopping with an outdoor dinner at Dash Teak House located in the back streets of the old city of Chiang Mai. Four hours of delicious food, flowing wine and endless laughs, in a beautiful atmosphere, with the best of friends…absolute perfection.
The next day we got adventurous, rented scooters and ventured about 15km outside of the city, to Huay Tung Tao Lake. Here we began a 7km hike that would lead us to a beautiful waterfall. It was amazing to watch the flora change the deeper we got into the forest and the higher we got up the mountain. The bamboo trees loosing their leaves near the start of the hike turned to tropical plants with leaves 3ft long and vines creeping up every tree. Just as we were starting to feel as though we were lost and might never find the waterfall, we turned a corner and there it was, 150ft high and trickling down to a shallow pool of water below. You’d swear we had struck oil when we came upon this natural wonder, as we were all in awe to have finally reached it and to be the only people there in its presence. After we dipped our toes and took some photos we completed the hike and ended back where we started, hopped on our scooters once again and made our way back into the city.
We had been anticipating our final day in Chaing Mai province since we first booked it about six months previous; we were going to play with elephants! After a lot of research, and a suggestion from a friend who was in Thailand a few years prior, we chose to have our elephant encounter at Elephant Nature Park. Although there are many places that offer elephant encounters in Chiang Mai we decided to go to ENP because it is a rescue and rehabilitation centre for elephants who had been abused or mistreated in their past. Along with elephants ENP is home to a heard of water buffalo as well as many rescued dogs and cats and they all live in harmony, together, on the many acres of land. Spending the day feeding, bathing and playing with the heard was an incredible experience. To be able to stand right next to the gentle giants, look into their eyes with their long lashes and feel their endearing nature humbled each one of us.
When we got back to Chiang Mai that evening Kait had come down with the same flu bug that Jeff had a few days previous. She rested while the rest of us got pizza and called it an early night before our flight the next morning.
A tuk tuk ride, a flight, a cab ride, and a longtail boat ride later and we were on Railay Beach in Krabi province in southern Thailand. After checking into our hill top bungalows at Railay Garden View Resort, we took it easy that afternoon, as Kait was still not feeling 100%; lounged on the beach and wandered the Walking Street of bars and shops between Railay East and Railay West. With no motor vehicles on the peninsula, everything moves a bit slower, which is exactly what we needed. While Kait rested that night, Tierney, Jeff and I went for dinner and bar hopping on Railay East. We ended the night with a couple Thai pancakes, similar to a crepe, which is Thai street food dessert.
The following day we took a walk to Phra Nang Cave, a pretty incredible sight to see. The locals believe the spirit of Princess Phra Nang to reside there. The legend of the princess is debated, however in order to ensure safety prior to a journey at sea, they leave phallic objects in the cave, there were hundreds of which upon our visit there. Phra Nang Cave sits upon pristine Princess Beach, which is where Kait and I spent the afternoon enjoying the sun and wading in the water. Jeff and Tierney took on the challenge of rock climbing instead. They signed up with a local company and spent the afternoon scaling the monstrous columns of limestone rock that protrude from the ground and reach high into the sky.
We had all planned to meet back at the resort around 5:00pm to shower and get ready to go out for the night. After a relaxing afternoon Kait and I slowly sauntered back to our bungalows to find Jeff and Tierney, both violently ill, in their respective beds. We waited it out for about an hour before deciding that we had never seen them so sick and asking them if they needed to see a doctor. They both responded yes, but both said that they didn’t have it in them to leave the rooms. So Kait and I set off to find a doctor on Railay Beach to make a house call. After the nurse put them on IV and took blood samples we learned that they both had bacterial infections in their stomachs. The normal level of this particular bacteria is 8; Tierney’s level was double the norm, at 16, and Jeff’s level was even higher, at 22. We were told they needed to be taken to the hospital on the mainland immediately and that there was a boat waiting for us. In shock and apprehension Kait and I packed up everyone’s bags, quicker than we ever had before, and together the four of us followed the doctor onto a longtail boat, in the pitch black night, praying that we were making the right decision. We arrived at Ao Nang Pier soaking wet, and were directed to a car that we all got in. The doctor then drove us to Aonang Medical Clinic where we were showed to our hotel-like accommodations; a nice room with a king size bed, ensuite bathroom and futon for Kait and I to sleep on. Tierney and Jeff spent the next 36 hours in that king bed, hooked up to IVs and an antibiotic drip every eight hours, not to mention the plethora of other pills they were taking to get them healthy again. Kait and I spent most of those hours on the phone with insurance companies dealing with the claims and keeping friends and family abreast on their progress. The care at the clinic was incredible and the facilities were clean and modern. That being said, those two days were a complete blur for all of us and as Jeff and Tierney slowly became human again we were able to laugh at the situation, which brought the four of us closer than we ever thought possible. I have never been so thankful to have one of my best friends, Kait, by my side and keeping me sane through it all; I quite honestly don’t know what I would have done without her. Seeing my husband and one of my best friends so sick was difficult and, at times, scary, so it was such an indescribable relief when they started to get their strength back and were up on their feet again.
The morning they were to be discharged from the hospital, I had caught the same flu bug that Jeff had in Bangkok and that Kait had in Chiang Mai. I blame Kait for this because she kept praising my immune system the previous day, saying she didn’t understand how I was the only one who hadn’t been sick yet. I pumped in the Gravol, powered through and we caught the ferry from Krabi Town Pier to Koh Phi Phi Don island that afternoon. Although our time on Koh Phi Phi Don was cut short, as a result of the trip to the hospital, we were all thrilled that we had finally made it there.
We only had one full day in Phi Phi and, Kait was the driving force behind our determination to make it to Maya Bay on Koh Phi Phi Leh island, a national park and a spot made famous by the 2000 film The Beach, staring Leonard DiCaprio. When the first longtail boat driver said they wouldn’t go out in the choppy waters that day, she searched for one who would. On the treacherous ride to Koh Phi Phi Leh we were cursing her name as we prayed for our lives and the driver was laughing at me screaming with every crashing wave. Upon arrival at Maya Bay we was thankful to Kait for her constant determination, as it was well worth he bumpy ride. The beloved lagoon, that we had only seen in the movie, was breathtaking. It is surrounded by limestone cliffs which makes the water calm and crystal clear and just beyond the white sand of the beach is the lush green of the beautiful forest. We spent our last afternoon together in awe of this beautiful natural wonder and snorkelling in its waters.
When Kait and Tierney first booked their flights to join us in Thailand we knew we were in for a fun filled two weeks together, but we had no idea quite how life changing those weeks would be. After we hesitantly parted ways Jeff said to me, “It’s incredible how real travel with friends can change your relationships for the better and bring you that much closer. I know for sure that our relationships would not have been strengthened in this way at an all-inclusive resort for a week.” We parted with a deeper love for two of our best friends and a true appreciation for their kind and beautiful spirits. With so many incredible memories made together and experiences shared we will never forget our two weeks of the good, the better and the best in Thailand. #ubnb