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Millie’s adventures in Thailand.

Sawasdee Ka, everyone!

On the 12th March of this year I took the most mind opening trip to Thailand with the fantastic Cosmos Tours for a week. In just the short period of time that I was there I saw so, so much and even though we only saw a snippet of what the full Cosmos Tour has to offer I felt like I had a true Thai experience.

We began our journey at Gatwick airport which I always commend for being clean and well organised whenever I fly from there. Our flights were with Emirates and connected in Dubai. We travelled in economy class which was incredibly comfortable and not at all cramped. I am of average height and had plenty of leg room, the airline staff were very polite and helpful, speaking a multitude of different languages, and the entertainment was amazing. There’s nothing better than getting through a long haul flight than being able to choose from a huge range of great movies from every genre, many of which had been recently released.

Upon our arrival in Bangkok we were met by our tour guide with Destination Asia who work with Cosmos tours in many of their Asia tours such as Thailand, Vietnam, and more. We were provided with bottles of cold water and wet wipes to clean our hands with and then boarded our large air conditioned coach to make the leisurely journey into the heart of Bangkok to our hotel, the Narai.
My first impression of our hotel was that it was very grand looking. When you walked into the lobby through the doors you are instantly greeted by a wave of cool air which was most welcome as we were still dressed for England while in 30 degree heat! Our bags were taken and we were escorted up one level to their main restaurant where we were seated and offered a spectacular buffet for dinner. The range of food was fantastic and it was all cooked to perfection. I had prawns, fried rice with crab, deliciously tender salmon, sushi, and more. For desert there was fresh fruit, ice cream, small puddings, cupcakes, and other things that I was far too full to eat! We were given our room keys and all went off for a good night’s sleep

Our first day in Bangkok began with an early morning, greatly helped by the fact that we still hadn’t adjusted to the seven hour time difference. We went down to another fantastic buffet meal, this time kitted out with bacon, eggs, and other breakfast foods from both Europe and Asia. We left the hotel and ventured off in our coach for the first of our activities.
Our first destination was to the lively, bustling, Damnoen Saduak floating market where we arrived in style – by boat! We travelled down the vibrant canals by what I can only describe as a long rowing boat with a canopy, controlled by a large motor. It was a fantastic experience to cruise past all of the mismatched houses perched on the river banks, see the farmers working on their fields, and gaze at the beautiful scenery all from river level! When we reached the end of our journey we hopped onto the pier and were immediately immersed in the sounds, smells and colours of the floating market. There were people selling clothes, food, drink, and souvenirs.

The best part about the market for me were the smells – in Thailand they use coconut for everything, and not just in food. They use the oil for cooking, skin, hair, and anything else they can think of. They sell coconut milk at the market still in the coconuts, and they even turn the shells into bowls! Nothing goes to waste. The sweet, soft aroma of coconut mixed with smells of curries, fried fruits, and other aromatic Thai street food was mouth-watering. After walking around the market for some time we began to head back the coach where our driver was waiting with well received ice cold bottles of water and wet wipes. As I was there in the Thai summer (March to June) the midday heat was reaching temperatures of 36 degrees so the air conditioned bus was a welcome sight.

For lunch we dined at the Supatra Riverside Restaurant which we reached by ferry across the river. We were served a great selection of food including gently spicy chicken curry, crispy Thai Seabass, and the most gorgeous lemongrass, coconut, and chicken soup.

After lunch we went to visit one of Bangkok’s ‘must see’ locations; the Grand Palace. At two o’clock in the afternoon with the sun high in the sky this was the hottest experience – especially with the need to cover up shoulders and knees. If you feel this is a place you would like to visit then I would recommend taking some very loose flowy clothing that covers the required areas.
I have never seen anything quite like the Grand Palace. All the walls of the building were adorned in gold and they were glittering in the sun. You could really get a sense of the historical importance of this architectural feat and despite the riches that it showed it was rather humbling.

The next morning we boarded the ‘grand pearl’ to Ayutthaya. This was my favourite part of the Bangkok experience because we got to see the city from yet another perspective. We threw breadcrumbs off the side of the boat to catfish while cruising past giant Buddha’s, skyscrapers, and wooden huts, all within a short distance of each other.
Ayutthaya is former capital of Siam and so has a vast array of temples and ruins. I love how in Thailand everything is mixed in together. There is no separation between rich and poor, old and new. Everyone is jumbled together in the same area so imagine my surprise when driving through the centre of town and suddenly coming across these ancient Ayutthayan temples out of nowhere!

On our 4th day we headed off to Chiang Mai by air with Bangkok airways. Although the flight was a bit turbulent it was a quick flight of only an hour which was much more preferable to a nine hour drive. We arrived at the Empress Hotel and were VERY impressed. The whole hotel is exquisite, the staff are incredibly friendly, and the location is perfect. We were 10 minutes away from the night market by foot and 2 minutes by tuk-tuk! We were welcomed with a glorious meal in their buffet restaurant that offers food for everyone, no matter how fussy. We were given traditional Thai Cognac (a MUST try for brandy lovers), flower garlands, and more welcome than I have received at any other hotel. I had a traditional Thai Mai cocktail served in a pineapple which was a fantastic touch!

The next day was one of the most humbling experiences of my life. We travelled up a mountain so high it made my ears pop to visit a Meo hill tribe. When we got there it was definitely not what I expected. What we found seemed to be a little makeshift market village, children running up and down the steep slopes, and those favouring a vehicle puttering up the mountain on motorcycles and mopeds. Our guide took us to see this tribe’s most prized possession – their preschool. We saw twenty little 4-5 year old children dancing around and singing to Thai nursery rhymes, whenever they finished a song we would applaud to their great amusement. Our guide took us to the side and explained how the late king of Thailand wanted to do something for the ethnic minorities in his country and so he built them a pre-school and the appreciation that they show even 50 years later is immense. Afterwards we walked back through the village and did a spot of shopping. I got a beautiful hand weaved scarf for my mother and the largest, juiciest strawberries I’d eaten in a long time.
After leaving the Meo tribe we travelled even higher up the mountain to the 600 year old Doi Suthep Temple. We were so high up that we were watching the airplanes take off in Chiang Mai airport and disappearing in the clouds before they even got to our level!
The temple is reached by a staircase of 306 steps so I could definitely feel my calfs after the trek but it was well worth it!
That night we took a stroll down to the night market. I found this market much more enjoyable than the one in Bangkok. It was far more spacious, slower paced, and friendly-feeling. Here I found an assortment of little treasures. A man making little tuk tuks out of beer and soda cans, bowls made out of coconut shells, lanterns, hand carvings, handmade jewellery, and hundreds of other beautiful items.

Our last day in Thailand was by far my favourite – The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary! I’ve never had quite an experience like it. We were collected at the hotel by the same pick-up style trucks as before and taken on a two hour journey through the country-side of Chiang Mai, up another mountain, and towards the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. This place is truly wonderful, full of fantastic people who only want to make sure that the beautiful animals that they look after have a truly wonderful life. All of the elephants here were rescued from riding camps. A lot of people who journey to this part of the world love the idea of riding an Elephant, who wouldn’t? Unfortunately the truth is that the Elephants involved are worked constantly for hours without break for food and the constant kneeling on the rough tarmac of the city roads leaves their knees injured. They are chained up at night, some are even abused. The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary rescues these Elephants and takes them to their camp where they have a fantastic life. Multiple times a day they get fed, bathed in mud, washed in a lake, taken on long walks through jungle, rested, and cared for, all by the people who come to visit (of course, supervised by the staff). When we arrived there was a mother and six month old calf who had only arrived the night before. They were incredibly shy and were not allowed contact with the other Elephants for another week for fear that they wouldn’t get along. The intelligence in these animals’ eyes was astounding and it is a memory that I will always look to with fondness.

That night we enjoyed a traditional Kantoke dinner and dance show, really taking in the traditional Thai atmosphere before venturing off the next day on our long journey home.

All in all I have fallen in love with Thailand and would love to return to see even more of this fascinating country. If you think that you would be interested in dedicated tours led by kind, enthusiastic tour leaders born and bred in the cities that you’re visiting then Cosmos are perfect for you. If I had visited Bangkok and Thailand off my own back, no matter how much research I had done I know I wouldn’t have seen half the things that I had seen in that one week. If you would like more information about the full tour or have any questions about my own trip then please don’t hesitate to call 01954 232 802 or email [email protected]

 

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