Elephants, Fish, Temples: Our Journey through Thailand

Over our break for Chinese New Year (26th January – 10th February) we packed our bags (and our dive gear 😉 and headed south for Thailand. We had an ambitious itinerary and are surprised we were able to cram in as much as we did for the two week window. 

The first leg of our adventure was traveling from Qingdao, China to Phuket, Thailand. We had a later flight (which was delayed) that resulted in us having to run through seemingly half of Incheon International Airport in Seoul; which is a very big airport. Needless to say, we made our connection (barely) and were rewarded with seats in the emergency row; giving us some much appreciated extra leg room. We arrived safetly in Phuket somewhere around 1 a.m. and found a ride to our Airbnb, hitting the pillows hard.

An early morning alarm jolted us awake as we had an exciting first day ahead of us. We were off to the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary to learn about their organization and how they rescue and help elephants. It was a truly magical experience. One moment we were taking a bumpy taxi ride through narrow wooded road, and within a few minutes, we were standing next to these large, sentient beings. 

On a jungle walk with elephants and EJS, Phuket

During our day at EJS we were introduced to the elephants and got to know some of their stories. We helped feed them, give a medical check-up, and even took a few of them for a hike in the jungle allowing them to wander as they would normally do in the wild. Did you know elephants love bamboo leaves?! Upon our return we got a chance to eat some local Thai food and relax for a moment. Before long, we hoped in the back of a pickup truck to go and chop dowd/collect young banana stalks. These are a treat for the elephants. Our work paid off as the elephants seemed to really enjoy the banana stalks we fed them. 

Once afternoon snack time was over it was time to get dirty. The sanctuary had several bathing spots for the volunteers to give the elephants a mud bath, then take a swim, and finally have a shower. Some of the elephants loved to be pampered. Some frolicked and played like giant puppies. It really was an amazing day, one that I have trouble putting into words. Some animals look right through people. Some barely take much notice. But when you look into the eyes of elephant, something behind those eyes looks back at you. It is through this simultaneous exchange that one is incredibly humbled, and changed quite literally forever. No one looks into the eyes of an elephant and walks away unchanged. 

Still buzzing over our day with elephants, our next adventure awaited: Our first liveaboard diving trip. As we were to be picked up later the next afternoon, we spent the day at the local beach swimming, reading, and working on our tans in the intense Thai sunshine. That afternoon we were picked up and dropped off at a pier where we met up with the other folks we’d be spending a week diving with as we waited to board our new home for the next week. 

Honeycomb Moray Eel

Before long, we boarded the ship, had our first briefing of the trip, got settled into our rooms, and had a wonderful first meal. We met some wonderful people on this trip and did some incredible diving. Over the next week, we sailed from Phuket to Khao Lak, Thailand stopping at the Similan National Park, Surin National Park (both archipelagos), and Richelieu Rock (a location made famous by Jacques Cousteau). All dives were amazing and looking back now it would be safe to say that we didn’t have a bad dive the entire week. Every site seemed to offer something new and exciting to check out. We had fun geeking out onboard with our fellow divers; reliving the moments when we came face to face with creatures we’ve never seen before. Some of the highlights for us were a honeycomb moray eel, two friendly octopi, schooling humphead parrotfish, and many varieties of clown/anemone fish. During this trip, we also completed our Advanced Open Water course, securing the next level in our diving education. 

Nemo’s not that hard to find

After a glorious week, it was time to pack up our gear, say goodbyes, and head to our next destination. We had decided to spend a few days in Khao Lak making our way to Bangkok. We had an awesome time in Khau Lak taking in the local food, sights, and culture. We rented a motorbike from our AirBnB host giving us a bit more freedom to move around and check things out. We took a tour of the local Tsunami Museum, learning about how the Tsunami affected the region and its people, ate at many local restaurants (so much Pad Thai!), went on a hike to a stepped-waterfall in a local National Park, and even got in some time at the beach. 

“LEFT.” Was the mantra of the day as in Thailand. Everyone drives on the left side of the road.
Five-level waterfall

After a few days, we started our journey to Bangkok where we had a few days before catching our flight back to Qingdao. As were were in the Southern part of Thailand, we decided to take a sleeper train to Bangkok. It was a very cool way to travel. Our tiny room was dwarfed by our suitcases of diving gear, but it was nice to lay down to catch some sleep rather than sitting upright, as you do in an airplane. 

After some rest, we arrived in Bangkok and started off for our next and last AirBnb to drop off our bags while we went exploring. Bangkok is a very cool city. There are so many different ways for a traveler to get around; cabs, tuktuks, aboveground trains, underground metros, and boats! During our few days in this busy city, we managed to travel by all methods mentioned above. 

Wat Arun Temple

Our first stop was a cluster of temples and sights around the river. It was very awe-inspiring seeing such works of art all around us. Every inch of every temple or sculpture had incredible detail. Even these very tall temples were covered in so many tiny details it will make your head spin trying to comprehend the number of items or amount of hours it would have taken to build something of that magnitude. Everywhere we went on our little self-guided temple tour was full of awe and amazement. It was inspiring to see so much craftsmanship put into everything.

Closer details of Wat Arun

Our next little adventure had us taking a Thai cooking class. We randomly stumbled upon this idea and decided to go for it; after it was all said and done, I’m so glad we did! We started off getting a tour of the biggest outdoor market in Bangkok with so many colors, sights, and smells, it was a little overwhelming to try and take it all in. While there, we picked up a few ingredients we’d need to complete the four dishes we were about to learn to prepare. Back at the House of Taste cooking school we were introduced to all the local ingredients and techniques used for traditional Thai cooking. We made a soup, a curry, Pad Thai, and a mango and sticky rice dessert. All were incredibly delicious and surprising not complicated to make. It was such a fun experience and great way to experience a new culture.

Later on, it was time to say goodbye to Thailand and make our way to Qingdao. We had a very early morning flight back so we packed up and made our way to the airport both agreeing that Thailand was well worth the visit and future trips needed to be planned. Not only the diving (which was exceptional) but the culture, people, and food made it a truly amazing experience. 

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