My adventure in Southeast Asia continues in Phuket, Thailand! I last wrote about my amazing two days in Bangkok. After a short 2 hour flight to the southern part of Thailand my friend Cruise and I found ourselves in a tropical paradise where we got to swim on the beach, zip-line, explore the jungle and eat even more delicious Thai food!
In Bangkok we had a very “go go go!” mindset, so in Phuket I was looking forward to slowing things down and relaxing a bit. It took us awhile in the airport to find our driver we had booked to take us to our hotel, but after that was resolved we drove to our hotel, settled in, and then went straight to the beach!
The sun felt SO good! It was probably ~90 degrees F and sunny all day long, but with a slight breeze that made the weather perfect. On top of that, the scenery was absolutely gorgeous around us. The sand was pristine, super white, no litter anywhere, and not crowded either. The bay had the most clear blue water, with mountains surrounding it in every direction covered in tropical forests. It was so beautiful!
After about an hour of laying on the beach we got hungry and decided to visit on of the main streets in Phuket for lunch. We found a restaurant that served some delicious vegetable curry (maybe the best curry I’ve had yet!) and got some sweet mango rice for dessert to share. So good! Rice mixed with syrup to become sweet plus fruit is a popular type of dessert dish in Asia, I learned.
After lunch we both got some fresh fruit smoothies from a street vendor and headed back to the beach. We spent the rest of the day alternating between chilling in Cruise’s hammock, laying on the beach in the sun, swimming in the bay, and then repeating the cycle over again! It was incredibly relaxing, and just what I needed.
Once it started getting dark we walked back to our hotel (3 minute walk from the beach), showered, and decided to go across the street to this night market for dinner.
This giant market was literally across the street from our hotel, and it was PACKED with people and various vendors selling fresh made food. I couldn’t decide what to get because everything looked so good and so… I got a lot of random things! Fresh made Pad-Thai, fresh fruit smoothie, fresh steamed corn on the cob (why not?), and veggie spring rolls made up my dinner that night. It was all amazing, and cost about $6 USD.
After dinner we walked around for a bit, explored various streets, and then went back to the hotel to sleep. The next day we were getting picked up by a shuttle to go to Khao Sok National Park – the #1 place I wanted to see while I was in Thailand!
Khao Sok National Park
If there was one thing I absolutely wanted to do in Thailand, ONE thing, it was visit Khao Sok National Park. Ever since I saw a picture of it online I knew I wanted to one day visit that beautiful place. So needless to say, as I was riding the bus on the way there (about a 4 hour drive from Phuket) I was So. Freaking. Excited!
On the way there our bus stopped at the famous Monkey Temple. You had to pay to go into the shrine that was inside the cave, but you could look from the outside for free. There were plenty of monkeys hopping around on the outside, on the ground, and all over the cliff side so I was just fine staying on the outside! You could tell the monkeys were used to people, because they let you get very close to them. And yes, I did get a selfie with a monkey!
After about a 30 minute stop there we got back on the bus and continued to Khao Sok. The countryside along the way was beautiful, with lush tropical forests covering mountains and valleys all around us. Besides having a great view, our guide on the bus also kept us entertained with interesting facts about Thailand and the Thai language. Apparently Thai is considered a “tonal” language, meaning depending on the tone you use while saying words the meaning can change.
For example, our guide gave us a word “suhweet” and she said it about 5 different ways to us “suhweet, suhweet, suhweet, suhweet, suhweet…” Each time she (apparently) changed her voice just slightly as she said it. Sometimes she went down in pitch at the end of the word, or went up in pitch, etc. Honestly, I couldn’t hear any difference even though I was listening hard, and all of these ways of saying the word carried different meaning! What was more crazy to me, is that there was no pattern with the meanings. For example, “suhweet” going up in pitch could mean “beach” while “suhweet” going down in pitch could mean “hospital.” There was no connection or pattern between the two. I thought this was crazy!
Back to the story! Our next stop before arriving at our final destination was at an Elephant park, where we would get the chance to ride elephants
I’ll be entirely honest here. Yes, I was very excited at the idea of being so close to these magnificent animals (and even at the idea of riding them!), but I was also torn because I had heard stories online of places in Thailand abusing elephants for the sake of tourism. The Elephant Park handlers spoke in detail about the kind of care the elephants got in the park, and how they were on protected lands, and it did reassure me a bit that these animals were happy.
So how was the experience in the end? Riding them was incredible. Cruise and I shared a seat on an elephant and we walked along a trail with the other elephants through the jungle, over boulders, across streams, etc. I was very surprised at how nimble they were! They traversed rough terrain like it was nothing, and had no problems climbing up rock walls with us on top! I was extremely impressed.
It was amazing to be so close to them. One final thought on them – as I was riding on the head of one I remember thinking how squishy the tops of their heads were. I was not expecting that! Also their hairs were long and course.
After the Elephant Park we got back on the bus and continued onwards. We made one final rest stop at a beautiful overlook before finally arriving at our camp for the night Khao Sok.
We booked ourselves a 2 day 1 night trip to Khao Sok National Park. Once we got there we were told which bungalow/cabin would be ours for our stay and then got to take a ride on this cute little zip line they had set up.
Afterwards we went to the main building for lunch. I told them ahead of time that I was a “strict vegetarian” (the word “vegan” is not known to them) and so on top of some of the regular dishes they had, they made me a set of special vegetable dishes and veggie spring rolls at each meal just for me! I was honestly really touched with how much care they gave me, and how they went out of their way to prepare separate veggie and rice dishes for me! We had fresh pineapple, potato stew, veggie spring rolls, vegetable stir fry (for me) and rice. It was super delicious!
After a quick nap in our bungalow we met up by the water with some of the other overnighters go to bamboo rafting down the river through the jungle! I never thought I would one day say that I went bamboo rafting through the jungle, but it was an incredible experience!
We floated down the river with about 3-4 other rafts. It was crazy beautiful – I’ll never forget how the sun looked through the trees, as tropical foliage spilled out from the banks onto the water. Or how the mountains looked in the distance against the perfectly clear blue sky. At this point we were also deep in the jungle, so the only noises to be heard were the soft sounds of our raft gliding through the water and the chirping of birds and insects all around us. It was so peaceful.
There was one bend in the river where they said we could climb onto the high river banks and jump into the water if we wanted – and of course we did! The family of three on the raft next to us just looked on with amusement as we got off our raft, swam to the bank, climbed up a small hill (maybe ~10ft above the river) and cannon-balled into the water. It was so hot out that it actually felt really refreshing! Cruise and I both jumped into the water about 2-3 times before swimming back to our bamboo raft and returning to camp.
When we got back we changed into some dry clothes and then they served dinner. I had sliced tomatoes/cumbers, fresh pineapple, rive and a special vegetable stir-fry (just for me!). By this time it was dark, and they told us we would be going night-canoeing on the same river we rafted on earlier in the day. I wasn’t expecting this, but I was kinda pumped!
They handed out small flashlights to us so we could look for interesting things in the night! I apologize for the crummy photo-quality above, but we did get to see some cool things! Every now and then they would take us near the large rocks on the riverbank where we could see various frogs (cute!) and spiders (scary!). I may not have many photos from that river trip, but it was really cool! And the stars were unbelievable.
One thing I need to comment on right now is the all natural “Badger Balm” bug repellent that I brought with me. It worked AMAZINGLY well. I really didn’t feel like slathering Deet all over my skin on this trip, but I knew I would be deep in the jungles at some point, so I did a lot of research and came across this all natural bug repellent. When I was out on that river at night I was paranoid because there were bugs EVERYWHERE, and mosquitoes LOVE me – but to my extreme surprise I did not get a single bite! I now swear by that brand of bug repellent!
After our night-canoeing we headed back to our cabin to sleep. I was so excited to find out that our bungalow had a mosquito net around the bed! One, I thought it was so cool because I had never slept in one before. And two, I was SO HAPPY at the idea of sleeping a night deep in the jungle without having to worry about waking up with a million bites! Such a cool experience – and I slept like a baby!
The Bamboo Forests of Khao Sok
The next day we were taken even deeper into the park with a guide and an older Dutch couple from the camp. Together we trekked through the forest all day and saw so many cool things!
For starters, I just couldn’t get over how cool all of the bamboo looked around me. I’ve never been in that kind of terrain before, so it was all very new! As we walked our guide also pointed out interesting plants and animals that we passed. We saw wild monkeys, otters, and TONS of lizards! That’s why I dubbed our guide “The Lizard Master.”
I swear, every few feet our guide (who spoke very broken English) would walk into the brush and BAM, strike his hand super fast into the weeds, then walk out holding a new lizard! I don’t even know how he was seeing them, but he caught so many lizards for us to look at! The one above was especially cool, he found it on a tree. You can see it has webbing between its legs like a flying squirrel so it can glide from tree to tree!
I love being out in nature, so hiking is really relaxing for me. It might not be for some, but being out there in the middle of the jungle sweating like crazy as I moved through the bamboo was so much fun!
At one point we came across a little pool area in the river where our guide told us we could swim if we wanted to! Um, yeah!
It was the cutest little clearing in the trees, and a perfectly blue oasis to swim in, with trees all around you. It looked like something out of a fairytale to me! The water was refreshing and there were large rocks off to one side where we took turns jumping into the water! After awhile a group of little kids came by that decided to swim in the grotto as well. They were being loud and rowdy, so we took the opportunity to go back on shore, dry off and keep walking.
I do have one last funny story about our guide. First I should say that he was one of the most genuine and kind people I’ve ever met. He was so enthusiastic about everything he was talking about, and answered every one of our million questions with a smile on his face. It might have been hard to understand him at times, but you could tell he cared about us, and wanted us to have a good day in the park!
So while we were taking a break on some large rocks in the river, we asked him about what kind of fish were in the area. At one point we ask, “What about piranhas? Are there any of those?”
“Uh… yes! Fish like snake, snake.. snake fish! They eat their babies!…Yes!”
“Oh, you mean eels! Cool, that’s interesting to know. What about piranhas?
“…Snake fish! Yes! Eat the babies!”
“…eels, cool. What about piranhas, or barracudas? Anything like that?”
“Yes snake fish! Eat the babies! Snake fish!”
Haha, it was actually a really funny conversation. We never did get our answer, but each time he replied, he did so enthusiastically while grinning from ear to ear and nodding his head vigorously! So for anyone who didn’t know, Khao Sok has eels aka “snake fish that eat the babies” in it, lol.
Once we got back to the car our guide found one last interesting thing to show us. A pineapple plant growing in the wild! I never knew they grew that way… 🙂
When we got back to the camp site we had a quick lunch with our group, and then got on a bus to go back to Phuket. The picture above shows what the main lodge/building looked like. It had a gorgeous view of the forest and mountains over the railings. It really was a magical place to spend a few days. In short, I highly recommend you visit Khao Sok National Park if you go to the southern part of Thailand! I definitely want to return one day and stay for longer than 2 days. There is a beautiful lake deep in the park (that I have seen in pictures) that I didn’t get to see this time around, so next time it is definitely on my list of things to do when I go!
It was a four hour bus ride back to Phuket. Once we got there we were hungry again (ha, Cruise and I can both eat a lot!) and so we strolled around downtown Phuket looking for something. We’d been having so much delicious Thai food lately, that I was starting to crave middle eastern/Indian again. We found an Indian restaurant and got some DELICIOUS naan, hummus, and vegetable/potato curry.
Final Day in Phuket
Our final day had arrived, and we both agreed it should be a chill beach day.
We took turns throughout the day napping in the hammock, laying on the beach, swimming in the water, getting fruit smoothies from a street vendor, etc. It was glorious.
There is one thing I did that day that was different than the other beach days we had… I got a massage! Thai massages were advertised everywhere in Asia, and here was no different. I finally decided on our last day in Phuket to get one. Why did it take me so long?
Remember that the conversion from Baht to USD is 35 to 1. So my ONE HOUR long, FULL BODY massage cost 200 Baht or… $5.70. Less than $6 dollars! I was amazed. And the massage was wonderful!
For dinner we went back to that large street market that was across from our hotel. I also worked up the courage to try something I had never done before – a fish tank foot massage! Earlier that week I had seen people doing it and thought to myself “Oh man, I bet that feels so weird! But maybe really good too!”
Well for 15 Baht I did it while snacking on some fruit and…. IT WAS SO WEIRD! Below you’ll find a video of my reaction, basically it is me going “OMG OMG OMG OMG!…” over and over again, haha! It tickled really bad, and also just… I can’t even describe it. I’m not sure I’ll try it again, but I’m glad that I at least tried it once! It certainly was a memorable experience!
Overall, I LOVED Phuket, and LOVED Thailand in general. From the incredibly nice people, to the delicious food, and beautiful scenery, Thailand had it all. Even thinking about it now, I can’t wait to go back! But my journey in SE Asia was not over yet. I had one more destination and we were getting on a plane the next day – Hanoi, Vietnam! Stay tuned for the conclusion of this journey!
Final Thoughts about Phuket:
- The people were some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. This proved to be true everywhere in Thailand that I went.
- Food, oh man the food. You can probably guess it was delicious (and super cheap)
- Did I mention everything was cheap? Gigantic meal for 2 people = $6.00 (USD equivalent). Nice hotel = $12/night. Fully body hour long massage = $6.
- The countryside and scenery was breathtaking in every way. I kept thinking to myself that Thailand had it all. It had beaches, it had mountains, it had rivers, it had lakes, it had jungles and forests. So many of my most favorite kinds of natural landscape were all found here. I loved it! The weather was amazing too. Sunny, warm/hot, but with a breeze.
- Do I recommend you visit Phuket? Absolutely! There is another city nearby that I would like to go to next called “Krabi” where you can rock climb on cliffs above the ocean. I would love to do this for my next trip to Thailand! Also, I want to visit the rice paddy fields and farm lands in the north!
- Buddhist culture was prevalant everywhere, in the form of temples/shrines, but I’m not sure how religious every day people were in their daily lives. It was a question I had after leaving still.
- This was true for all of the countries in Asia we had been to so far, but English was definitely not as prevalent as it was in Europe. Sometimes we met people who we could converse with easily, but at other times our conversations were very strained. Because people were so nice everywhere we went though, it was never an issue to patiently explain things multiple times, and have them patiently try to respond in their limited capacity as well. It really just made me want to start learning their languages!
- Being a vegan in Thailand was extremely easy. Fresh fruit and veggies were everywhere, and it was really easy to ask for a rice or noodle dish with tofu + veggies instead of meat. I had no problems!
- Do I have anything negative to say? Nope! Loved it. Book your tickets as soon as you can!