Our first experience in Southeast Asia was easily one of our best adventures yet. From pampering elephants, to cooling off beach side with a cold Chang, we enjoyed both culture and relaxation throughout our nine day voyage. To begin, we flew into Bangkok on a connecting flight through Dubai. From Bangkok, we took a short commuter flight up to Chiang Mai to kick off our trip. This ancient walled city is known for its history, temples and wildlife. Over the course of three days we explored the streets on foot, haggled our way through their night markets and ate some of the most delicious North Thai fare, but the experience of a lifetime came in the form our trunk toting, 2.5 ton giant friends at Elephant Nature Park. We spent an entire day, walking, feeding and washing these gentle giants as part of day long excursion provided by the park. Prior to being rescued, these animals were beaten and severely mistreated through tourist riding camps, logging work and other harmful businesses. It is the parks mission to save as many of the elephants as they can from this mistreatment and we were happy to pay our fee in order to support this organization's vision (Elephant Nature Park website).
Upon leaving Chiang Mai, we decided it was time to see what the famed southern Thai beaches were all about. We left early and hopped on a flight through Bangkok, landing at Krabi airport (en route to Railay town in Krabi). We were greeted by a member of our hotel with cold wet towels and water and ushered into our luxury mini van for transport to the water. Once dockside, we departed our wifi-enabled, transport for a short trip across the Andaman Sea to the heralded Rayavadee resort, where we were greeted individually by our personal host for check in. Our host served us cold drinks and would prove to be a smiling face that remembered our names for the duration of our stay. (One side note here: This resort is far more expensive than the others on the peninsula at around $350-$450 per night. It is absolutely amazing in all aspects: on Phra Nang beach - top 10 beach in the world, home of the "Grotto" restaurant, unbeatable views/wildlife and it has the most amazing service you have ever experienced. We splurged on it because of a recommendation from a friend AND the fact that we could get truly luxurious value at a reachable cost. It is by no means the only place to stay and staying elsewhere will certainly get you a fantastic Thai experience, with wonderful employees, at a MUCH more reasonable rate.). Following our check in, we were led to our villa through curving red, brick walkways, surrounded on all sides by the jungle and its inhabitants. Throughout our stay, we would be fortunate enough to meet many of these inhabitants, including several types of birds, a large monitor lizard and two different species of monkeys swinging from the branches of trees and vines overhead (Cutest monkey goes to the Dusky Leaf Monkey, who's babies are yellow for the first 6 months of their lives. The picture above was taken by us on our resort). Our villa was tremendous, rising two stories, with 1.5 baths, a California king bed and an enormous bathroom with all high end amenities.
These amenities were fantastic throughout our stay, but it was really the service and spectacular scenery that made our stay go above and beyond. The Thai people are absolutely one of kind. No matter who we interacted with, our host, the gardener, the bartender, or the security guards, we would always get a warm "sawadee krap" (sawadee kha for Kailah) when we walked past, accompanied by an ear-to-ear smile. One of my favorite stories (and huge kudos to the staff at Rayavadee) was after getting back to our resort, following a few beverages in Railay town. All of the resort's restaurants were closed and we were starving, so we called room service. Concerned about being a bother to them, I asked for a late night menu and offered to order whatever might be easiest for them to make. Their response? "Sir, we will make anything that you request". Literally anything I wanted - talk about service. Me: "Anything? Ok, I'll take a cheeseburger". Maybe it was all of the Thai cuisine I had consumed, but it was one of the best burgers I've ever had. Second to the amazing people, was the jaw dropping white sand beaches, the blue-green sparkling water and the looming limestone cliffs. These scenes were truly out of a fairy tale and pictures will never do them justice. Having Rayavadee as a home base made it extremely convenient to lay out on a poof chair and simply take in the view, while lazily drinking from a rum infused coconut. One of our best pictures came from our first night at the resort, where we ate dinner in the mouth of a cave (pictured above - "The Grotto"), with our table on the edge of the sand, and watched the deep red sun fall below the Strait of Malacca. Simply breathtaking.
Lastly, I want to note our experiences in Railay town, on the peninsula near our hotel. We visited a few restaurants, but two stood out for us. The first was a kabob stand detailed in a related post of ours here under Alex's Kabobs. The other was an Indian restaurant called Kohinoor. It isn't much of a restaurant visually, with plastic tables and chairs, but they serve the most amazing Indian fare, at a very reasonable cost. The owner is kind and owns another business down the road selling clothes to tourists. We visited his restaurant twice while we were in Krabi and are looking to going back on our next excursion to Thailand. In Railay town's entirety, we enjoyed this part because there are several bars/restaurants where you can escape the resorts and enjoy a few cocktails in the evening, after the oppressive Thai sun has descended for the day.
Above is only the tip of the iceberg for this amazing country. You cannot truly experience the rest until you visit many times, as we intend to. We are certainly looking forward to our next experience in Southeast Asia and our next in Thailand as well.