Aaaand…we are off! The 2023 tour season starts now, as I fly from Seattle to Chiang Mai, Thailand. I’m on Korean Air this time and they do a great job. It’s always fun to pass through Seoul and see the high tech airport, with baffling toilets and roaming robots. 12 hours down, 6 more to go. See you on the other side in sunny Thailand.
Coming back to Thailand is a little nostalgic for me. The last time I was here was with my kids, right at the beginning of 2020. We had no idea that the pandemic was on its way, and everything would change.
But this tour is nostalgic for another reason. Back in 2016, I was getting really burnt out of guiding for another company. I wanted more but I couldn’t put my finger on what that was. By chance, my longtime friend Imprint Tours Reid Coen asked me for some tutoring on using technology effectively, which was a thing I was teaching to colleagues at the time. Venting a bit, Reid asked me if I’d be interested in collaborating with him, and if I’d like to come to Thailand to try it out—about a month later. I decided to spontaneously take a chance. I couldn’t afford the ticket, not really, so I put it on a credit card and got on a plane. Once I got here, I was so wowed by Thailand and Cambodia, and I met my dear friends Ae and Kheang, who still guide for me today.
This trip was the seed of everything you see here today. It opened my mind to the possibility that I could build my own company and really push peoples boundaries to try destinations they wouldn’t have considered. The world is so beautiful and varied, and if I can help anyone be brave about trying something different, then my mission is accomplished. I’m very grateful to Reid for opening my eyes to it all, and also grateful to the small band of guests that took a chance on my first tour of Thailand. Most of those guests still travel with me regularly and have become dear friends.
After my experimental trip, I wrote a little blog piece about why you should try Thailand. It still resonates, Thailand is one of the most delightful yet exotic places I can suggest. Maybe this will inspire you to consider it, but at the very least, you can have a bit of second hand travel exhilaration. You can read it here:
Thailand Day 2
So you think you can’t cook? Well, we are going to prove you wrong when you come to Thailand. Today, we enjoyed another delightful day with Cooking At Home-ChiangMai and their Thai cuisine cooking class. We started the day with a walk through the local market, and then learned how to make four different dishes. Learning by watching isn’t enough, though. We all actually cooked our lunches ourselves.
I’ve done a lot of cooking classes on tours, but this is the most magical one. Every dish turns out perfectly somehow, even if we are working with unusual ingredients. I’ve always thought that a culture can be best observed through food, so making this the kick off to our first full day in Thailand helps the cultural immersion. And it was tasty!
Our day began with a fantastic cooking class and ended with the most famous temple in the north, Wat Doi Suthep. This is my favorite place for my group to learn about Thai Buddhism. We got our fortunes told, had a monk bless our journey, learned about which Buddha is our spirit Buddha, and watched the evening prayer as the sun set. While the amount of gold is impressive, seeing the devotion of the visitors was more so.
I made a little reel from our evening, you can find it over on Instagram. While you’re over on Insta, please follow my new account, where I’ll be posing reels and more photography from my travels.
Bangkok Photo Essay
How do I love thee, Bangkok? Let me count the ways.
Bangkok is like the perfect love affair, the kind where every visit makes you love it more. I think there is some kind of idea out there that Bangkok is seedy or dangerous, but it couldn’t be less true. It is shockingly clean and well maintained (mostly) but still keeps a funky, joyful character. It is very Eastern but also welcoming to westerners. There is so much to see in this sprawling city, every visit seems far too short. For me, it is one of the most delightful cities in the world. I took a few pictures today. I hope they can capture a bit of the spirit of a city that I do thoroughly enjoy.
Thailand: What Do Things Cost?
Exotic travel to a place like Thailand isn’t exactly cheap, but there are some bargains that will make you feel like the King of Siam. I thought maybe you’d like a sense of how affordable Thailand is, so here are a few examples.
I walked out of the Bangkok hotel with 1000 baht ($30) in my pocket last night and spent exactly all of it. So what did I get for that much? First, I started with a one hour foot massage, which included head neck and shoulders at the end. Then, I got a new pedicure with gel polish. I finished off with a nice bowl of green curry chicken and white rice. I’d guesstimate that all of those things in the US would cost more than $150.
I popped into the 7-Eleven (which are crazy and ubiquitous here) to grab snacks and a few random things. For 200 baht (about $6) I got mosquito repellant, two kinds of face cream, and a handful of random snacks.
We dined at the most famous Pad Thai restaurant in Bangkok, a place with a line down the block. My meal, with a big bottle of fresh squeezed orange juice, came to 300 baht, about $9.
At the Chatuchak market, I bought some nice chopsticks for 15 baht (less than 50 cents) and tshirts for my boys for 150 (about $5).
The real bargains here are the services. Massages, hair cuts, spa treatments, any kind of beauty treatment…they are all extremely affordable and the quality is relatively good even in modest shops. Clothes are such a bargain that I don’t even know why I bother to pack anything at all. You could arrive with the clothes on your back and fill your suitcase with interesting and very inexpensive clothing here in Thailand. Food is so cheap that I almost feel bad about it. I got an iced coffee today for 20 baht, or about 60 cents. Street food can be dirt cheap but even fine dining is within the reach of most travelers here.
If you’re wondering about hotels, there are deals but this is where the money gets spent. You can find a clean but basic hotel for $50, a hostel bed for $10, and a luxury hotel for $250. Western 5 star chain hotels are $300-500 at this time of year in Bangkok, but why would you want to do that?
Getting here isn’t cheap, but if you’re a penny pincher, you’ll be in heaven once you do.
Our tour has moved south to the man made lake at Khao Sok. We are sleeping in floating cabins and spent our day swimming in a lake that is as warm as a bath. In the evening, we did a wildlife spotting boat trip, where we sat and listened deeply to the forest and slowly watched the sky turn a rainbow of colors as the sun set.
Hello from our island paradise!
We are spending three nights on a small Thai island. There are no cars or roads, there isn’t even a boat dock. Our guests had to wade from the boat to the beach! Our hotel is a series of luxury grass huts on the beach, complete with AC and private baths. The only sounds are the waves and the tropical birds and gibbons in the jungle.
Yesterday was a day off, so all of us wandered, swam in the warm turquoise water, got beachside massages, and totally let go for a day on what I like to call “Gilligan’s Island”. The only question is, are you a Maryanne or a Ginger?