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Fish spas…the good, the bad, and the, “I don’t think I like this!” in 60 seconds!

I probably went to one of the worst fish spas you could go to. Oh, you know, planted right in the middle of a tourist trap in Bangkok on Khao San Road. It’s a street filled with pubs, elephant pants, and “Same Same” graphic tees. It’s a party spot that it’s no wonder it attracts hundreds of drunken tourists looking for debauchery. Thank God I’m not in my twenties anymore or I’d probably be one of the hung over despicables parked and drinking a bad excuse for a Bloody Mary and then washing it down with a Chang beer because I don’t want to waste the money I just spent on it.

I’m not even sure why I’m here…oh, wait, my mother did some research and wanted to take me here because she thought I’d enjoy it. Yes, mum is in town for two weeks to see me off at the beginning of my round-the-world travel adventures. We begin window-shopping looking at all the same graphic tees before I overhear my mother (God bless her) pull over a backpacker and ask him, “Excuse me? Do you know where the backpacker’s ghetto is? I want to get to the backpacker’s ghetto.” Not surprisingly he didn’t know, and she got a very questionable stare. We get to another shop, and she proceeds to ask the vendor the same question. Where on earth is she getting her info from?! Why is she so curious to check out a “ghetto”? I’m beyond feeling embarrassed and bury my head into the rack of clothes until we’re in the clear.

To derail her from further embarrassing me, I see a fish spa. I read about these on Trip Advisor and on the internet. It seemed novelty, and I’m drawn to novelty, so I figured, “When in Thailand…”

My mother seemed apprehensive about doing it but decided to join me since I was able to knock off an extra 50 baht ($1.50 each) off the 200 baht original price for 15 minutes. It seemed a bit pricey considering I saw that equivalent to a one-hour massage, but, “What the hell. YOLO!” I’ll never be able to try this in the states.

I was wearing skinny jeans, but the lady at the shop had some pants for me to change into. Sweet! I walk upstairs into a little changing room area so that I could put on these adorably attractive yellow and lime green capris (notice sarcasm). As I’m getting my last leg in, I hear screaming from below. Who is that?? Then I recognize it’s my mother’s voice. We’re the only ones in the shop, so it has to be my mum. “Oh, quit being a baby!” I’m thinking.

I make my way back down, and she has this squeamish look on her face with her feet propped up over the fish spa. It can’t be that bad.

She looks at me, and I’m laughing at her for being such a sissy and sit down so the lady can wash off my feet in a bucket of water before going for it. Mum gets ready to video me, and I get my camera ready too. I put one foot in followed by the second one seconds after.

I see them each of them starting to make their way slowly to my two feet…but mostly my left foot. I’m not sure why they like my left foot better.

A few of these feet-sucking feeders are now on my feet. This feels kind of weird. Then dozens more slowly follow suit. Okay, now it’s starting to feel really weird. And then the dozens begin to triple all mostly attracting on my left foot. What gives?! Eeeeeek! Okay, I don’t think I like this. Wait, I definitely don’t like this!

I’m trying so hard not to overreact, holding my breath, my face getting flushed, and my eyes closing tighter and tighter. “Eeeeee-heeee-heee-heee!!” I can’t tell if I want to scream, laugh…I’m scraughing. That’s what I’ll call it! Scraughing! I’m totally scraughing squeamishly.

I’m practicing my breathing as if I were preggers with frequent shallow inhales and exhales, “Whoo! Whoo! Whoo!” Okay, I can’t take this anymore! No more! My feet are out. The fish win and I’m TKO’ed this first round.

But, wait, that was like only 60 seconds. I still have another 14 minutes of this ish. My mom has this, “See? I told you so.”, look on her face with her feet still on the surface of the water.

I’ll show you, Mom!

I get my feet back into the water after the blood proceeds to rush off my face, and these fish-sucking guzzlers are back at it in the same routine, all back at my left foot. What the hell?

I’m panting like a dog without water with cold sweats coming from my forehead hyperventilating again.

“Eeeeee-heeee-heee-heee!!”

“Whoo! Whoo! Whoo!”

All right! Vampire fishies, you win! You TKO’ed my ass. I’m out!

Clearly I did not make it the full 15 minutes and weeks later I can say I didn’t suffer from any weird foot fungi from unsanitary conditions sharing the dirty waters with a million other feet, but it is a twisted story I get to share with my friends. Would I give it another try? While I did have a dream (aka nightmare) that same night about fish sucking on my body and suffering from a slight PTSD from the experience, I would consider giving this another try in the future, preferably at a spa where I’m warmed up with a glass of champagne first.

You Suck Fish Spa!

With up to 10,000 visitors in a single day, is Maya Bay worth going to? Maya Bay sits along Phi Phi Islands and has gained most of it’s popularity from the movie, “The Beach”, starring Leonardio DiCaprio. Me along with thousands of others wanted to see this piece of paradise and so I did what everyone else did and signed up for a day tour. I have to say I was happy about the way our guide was able to manage our timing throughout the day. We arrived about 20 minutes before we started seeing a school of water vessels coming in from every direction and letting off dozens of people at a time. It’s hard to take notice of this tropical paradise when it’s ruined by hundreds of people interrupting your beautiful view with their selfie sticks and fancy DSLRs. While I’m appreciative I got to knock this one off my “Thailand Bucket List” I can honestly say that I wouldn’t return again. The bay is simply too small for the amount of visitors it attracts.

 

Discovering Bangkok’s food scene can be overwhelming. Here I’ve created a half-day foodie itinerary where you’ll be able to find some of the oldest recipes in Phra Nakorn, one of fifty Bangkok districts. 

SAM PRANG, PHRA NAKORN DISTRICT

FLOW: Begin with breakfast having an original and traditional crispy pancake for breakfast and then a 70-year-old ice cream recipe for lunch snack at Tha Chang Pier. If that doesn’t already curb your appetite, you can take a bus or tuk-tuk to another area of Phra Nokorn District for a traditional Thai lunch and dessert.

1. Khanom Bueang: Crispy Pancakes
Address: 91 Prang Nara Road, Choa Por Sua Shrine Sub-district
Opening Hours: 11:00 am – 05:00 pm (every day except Sundays)
Bus Lines: 2 or 60

Crispy pancakes aren’t commonly found on the streets of Bangkok due to the amount of labor involved it take to prepare it. This original and traditional 100-year old recipe still exists from the King Rama V reign. It was once presented to the royal family and has been in the royal family ever since. You can order it sweet or savory and buy one pancake for about 30 baht (approximately $1 USD). Some find this expensive for Thai local standards, but you get what you pay for and here that means deliciousness and arguably the best you’ll find. The business is now being run by Mrs. Somsri Hirunwatit, the granddaughter-in-law of the royal family.

There’s no wrong time ever to have ice cream so make your way over to Natthaporn at your leisure. It’s in the same sub-district.

2. Natthaporn: Coconut Milk Ice Cream
Address: 94 Building next to the Ministry of Interior, Prang Prootorn Rd.
Opening Hours: 09:00 am – 05:00 pm (every day except Sundays)
Bus Lines: 2 or 60

This Thai homemade ice cream recipe is more than 70 years old. They strive for only the best ingredients, and there are no preservatives. We love that! Some of their toppings include red bean, peanut, lotus seeds, crispy roasted mung bean, sticky rice, corn, taro, and toddy palm.

Now that you’ve had your appetizer move into a late lunch over to Sao Chingcha sub-district.

3. Pochsapakarn Restaurant: Thai Food
Address: 443 Buildings opposite to the Chao Por Sua Shrine, Tanow Rd.
Opening Hours: 10:30 am – 2:30 pm (M-F) / 11:00 am – 9:30 pm (S, S)
Bus Lines: 33, 64, 508

One of Bangkok’s oldest restaurants having been opened for more than 90 years! Here you’ll find distinguished Thai spicy style. This is the same style used to serve the Royal family and passed through generations.

I hope you saved just a little more room for dessert! You might be thinking, wasn’t that the ice cream? But, no, you can’t leave Thailand without having some of their mango sticky rice!

4. Khao Nio Kor Panit: Sticky Rice with Fruit
Address: 431-433 Buildings behind the Ministry of Interior, Tanow Rd.
Bus Lines: 33, 64, 508

Now that you’ve made it this far, you’ll want to head over to Khao Nio Kor Panit for some sticky rice mixed with coconut cream. This establishment has been recognized by TV programs, magazines, and different forms of media. While I did mention to try the mango with sticky rice, this is a place you can actually explore other fruit when mangos aren’t in season; something not found at a lot of other places.

I hope you enjoyed my one-day traditional Thai foodie tour. Please let me know what you think in the comments below.

You’ve heard the story a million times about the idiot hikers who go against the grain and abandon all reason. This is my story about two Americans and a Canadian, who got lost in the middle of a jungle. Yes, this already sounds like a punch line to a horrible joke but this was my recent reality two days ago.

It all starts with a brilliant idea to go for a sunset jungle hike in Doi Suthep National Park in Chiang Mai, Thailand. My two friends only arrived a couple of day’s prior, and we wanted to explore all of the great nature that this outdoorsy town has to offer.

I just rented a 2015 fire engine red Fira motorbike that morning and, having never actually driven one myself, I asked my experienced travel blogger friend (www.skyetravels.com), Skye, to take charge. The three of us piggyback onto my scooter holding on for our dear life as we drove up the canyon to a little village, the farthest point we could go before we had to get taken to the next highest point by a songthaew that can be best described as a hybrid tuk-tuk truck.

Our first sign of warning should have been one of the songthaew drivers who, in his very animated attempt to speak Thai-English, tried to tell us it was a bad idea. He waved both of his hands simultaneously from side to side saying “No, no, no!” Then followed up with him running in place wiping the sweat from his forehead. It pretty much looked like he said we were about to walk ourselves into death.

We convinced him anyway to drive us about 6 km up the road for 50 baht (approximately $1.50 USD) per person. We even recruited a solo Malaysian traveler to help reduce our cost.

Our driver kept insisting on giving us a ride to the very last point, but we needed to burn off some late night calories from the night before that we asked him to drop us off at one point of the trail where we found a small temple ruin just beyond the Doi Pui View Point.

It was nearly 3:00 pm at this point and I still never really understood how many kilometers the entire hike was. I just figured we’d see signs along the way and figure it out from there.

About 30-45 minutes into the hike we pass a campground where we saw a sign saying it was 4 km before the next village. I facetiously say, “At least we have a place to sleep if we don’t make it back out in time!” This is our last point for restrooms before be begin our 15 km hike.

Campground

Our Malaysian friend had to turn around at this point because he had been bitten by a dog the day prior and needed to get his second rabies shot. Either that or he had a feeling we were headed into a path of doom.

As we’re leaving the campground, I keep doing the math in my head. It’s nearly 3:30 pm and we still have a lot of terrains to cover. I ignore all reason, stay quiet, and convince myself it’ll be an adventure either way. We can always turn back around at the village if it didn’t work out. Ironically, later, I found out that I wasn’t the only one who had that same thought.

We continue onto our trail and pass a few local hikers who looked like they were on their way back. When we asked how far the trek was ahead and they said we likely wouldn’t make it in time and wouldn’t recommend it.

There goes another sign. Again, all of the signs were leading up to our idiocy.

Not long after we pass them a family in a white pickup truck pull over and offer us a ride. We gladly accepted a ride hopping in the back of their trunk bed with their son (who looked maybe under ten years old) into the nearest village shaving about another 4 km of time to our sunset hike.

Once we get into the village, also known for their coffee, we are the only foreigners around. We see little shops of handmade goodies by the local tribe women. You could hear a medium sized group of children on the opposite side of the road laughing and playing. We see them chasing each other in the distance back and forth on their bikes in tandem with roosters trying to steer clear of their direction. Some of the boys used sticks for toys when they were on foot and their life seemed simply joyful by my standards. It was pretty refreshing to see a culture not self reliant by their iPads, iPhones, or iWants.

Kids in the Village

We spend another 40 minutes in the local village and come to a group decision that we’re not going to turn around and instead continue with our hike.

A woman dressed up in local tribe attire offered to give us directions to the trail that led to Doi Suthep temple. She points at an unidentifiable dirt trail behind a shack, and we decided to head on our way at about 5 pm.

The path before doom

The hike led us by orange markers tied to trees, but after about an hour and a half, we lost our trail. We still had faith we’d find another marker and decided to keep going until a few meters were now coming to a close kilometer.

The delicately rosy sky began to set ardently over the jungle, and we’re reminded why we decided to keep moving past the last village. There hasn’t been a person in sight for miles except for the few rice farmers we passed along the way.

It’s only minutes before dusk and the trail came to a complete halt. There was no longer a pathway and we’re at least an hour away from the village at this point. We decide to walk off-trail up the mountain seeing if we’d find something that connected back to the trail but as it got darker we began to feel a sense of frustration. It essentially led to another dead end.

The adventure now begins.

We decide the only thing we could do is backtrack, but it was very difficult to do so when you don’t know your way around the jungle and the orange markers are almost impossible to find. The now cauldron-black sky led us with no choice but to use our iPhone flashlights and questionably reliable Google Maps.

Nearly 4 hours without a person in sight as we trailed through dead ends, different paths that led to even more dead ends, and all while Google Maps kept pin balling us through the center of this National Park.

We talked about anything to distract us from any weird crackles we heard in the distance and the buzzing insects flying around at night. We even began a game of dare to keep our minds from feeling like we were lost, but that quickly ended when I dared Skye to do a 3-time cartwheel and he almost ate it. At this point we all wanted our limbs to be working together so we didn’t have to haul around any extra weight.

My Canadian friend’s legs were getting desperately tired taking many breaks along the way. We did everything to remain as a team in a moment of high stress and had a discussion about at what point we think she should call for a search and rescue team.

Finally just after 9 pm, and literally on the very last trail we had faith in, we see a light up in the distance. I’m not optimistic at this point because we saw many lights in the distance that led us back into the black night. It wasn’t until we began seeing more signs of civilization like a motorbike followed by (insert celebratory music here) an orange marker!

I’m running as fast as I can to the top of the mountain (in my mind) while my legs moved as slow as molasses. It’s true! We see a light to a home! Skye runs with speedy conviction to let them know we’re here.

At this point, I have a mixed range of emotions. In the back of my mind I’m hoping this isn’t the home of some serial killer because the profile would fit perfect all alone in the middle of the woods. While the other part of me was hoping I’d have this inspiring story to share about how some local villagers generously welcomed us with open arms into their homes with a hot meal and a night exchanging knowledge about our culture.

Instead, we were greeted by a farmer and his albino wife who offered us a place to sit and a ride back 8 kilometers to the village for 800 baht (about $25 USD). We gladly accept and see this as our contribution to feeding them for a month. They warm up the truck and take us to where my 2015 fire engine red Fira parked all lonesome in the desolate parking lot. We gave the couple American and Canadian hugs for not chopping us up and taking us back to our vehicle. What a relief!

Yes, we can now say escaped the idiot hiker story not having any newspaper coverage about us the following morning, but don’t do what we did. Know your trails, go with your instincts, let people know where you’re headed, and don’t hike on trails in third-world countries you’ve never been in without a supervised guide. Then again, where’s the adventure in that?

 

 

This is among one of the most sensitive subjects among travelers you can talk about when it comes to Thailand tourism. Is riding an elephant morally wrong and unethical?

I only know what I’ve researched. I can’t say I have any “evidence” supporting the facts, but I’ll tell you my story. If after doing your own research you think it’s still okay to ride an elephant, who am I to tell you judge and tell you that you can’t? We all doing things that are considered unethical at one point or another and each person is unique to his/her own values – whether it’s not supporting animal bi-products to not supporting what some perceive as abuse.

It was the first week into Thailand and I knew I wanted to see elephants. I mean…it’s the thing to do when you’re out here. To personally engage with them seems like such an enriching experience, doesn’t it?

After doing a little research, I found dozens of articles about how elephants that are chained are being abused to support tourism. The elephants are working long hours and that their backs aren’t meant to carry all the weight. You will even find stories about elephants killing their owner out of rage.

I was in Krabi, a cute little beach town in South Thailand. I had a week long visit and wanted to book a tour to get away from the hotel. I find a little kiosk where a lady had a list of tour packages available and she was prepared to give me a good deal. There was one, particularly, that stood out. It was a three-part tour visiting a local hot spring, a Tiger Temple, and then ending with a short 10-minute elephant ride. In as many ways as I could ask if the elephant riding was done in a humane way, it was impossible to get her to understand me. I went against my gut and figured if I didn’t feel right about it, I wouldn’t do it.

We go to the other stops and then finally get to the elephant camp. Everything happened so quickly that before I even had time to think I found myself stepping on one of their backs so that I could enjoy a “bucket list” item of mine at the expense of the animal. Truthfully, I felt like a horrible person the entire time and I couldn’t wait to get off. Here two people are sitting on their backs while a third (mahout) sat on its neck guiding the elephant with a bullhook. I literally felt like I was supporting animal cruelty and this made me a bad person.

I guess the only way I can justify my experience to make me feel less awful about it was that it was a very short ride of about 10 minutes.

I feel morally wrong about. My intuition told me it wasn’t right and I ultimately did something I didn’t feel morally right about. The mahout kept jumping off to get photos, but I kept declining because I didn’t want any photos showing I actually supported this.

My elephant ride eventually ended and there was a little stand nearby that sold bananas for us to feed them with. I bought some feeling it was the only way I could tell them I was sorry.

Is riding an elephant wrong? I’ll leave that up to you to decide, but all I have to say is do your research. There are so many other enriching ways to spend with them which I eventually did further into my trip by volunteering at an elephant sanctuary.

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