Sibling Adventures in Thailand
Few travel buddys can bring to the table what a sibling can, especially when said sibling is a younger sister. I was looking forward to her joining me in Thailand for weeks before she finally arrived, and despite her stay being only one week, it was one of the more memorable ones I’ve spent out here. We packed a lot during her time here, from sightseeing, to catching up, to inside jokes that you can only share with the person you grew up with. It was a refreshing bit of travel with a lot more intelligence and a lot less dilly dallying.
I went to get her from BKK on Sunday afternoon, and it was pretty endearing seeing her looking all confused walking out of the tunnel. We got the OMG’s and hugs out of the way and quickly checked into our hotel. No I didn’t forget to put the ‘s’ in there. My dear sweet sister booked up a fancy hotel for our two nights in Bangkok. Alright, I guess we’ll get bougie while she’s here and drop the hostel life for a bit. It actually worked out pretty well as, even though I had never actually stayed in Bangkok’s famous backpacker minded Kao San Road (and not by accident), I had been to it many times and never really felt compelled to stay there. And let’s be honest, it’s nice to have a solid shower and a quiet, comfy bed once in a while.
We checked in and headed straight for the National Museum. There really is no dilly dallying with her. A lot of Buddha statues of various shapes, sizes, and hand postures. We learned what some of them mean, from meditation to calling the rain. After doing our dues to Thailand’s culture, we headed back to the hotel. It was right on the water in Riverside, which is still pretty close to Kao San road and, although we weren’t staying there, Sinzy still wanted to see it so we knocked that out first.
We browsed the neighbourhood and she got a sense of what the backpacker lifestyle is all about. I could see her slowly easing into it and accepting the grungy lifestyle that accompanies it. She got a mani-pedi but I think a massage out have served her better, having just arrived from the real world and all it’s stresses. I got a Thai massage and proceeded to get beat up by a delicate yet strangely fierce woman. We had dinner at Madame Musur, a fantastic little restaurant in one of the alleys off Kao San, and headed back to our hotel for a night cap. The view on the river really was steller and it was great to just chill and chat.
All that happened in a half day. This was going to be some week.
The next morning, we jogged around the area, which I always found to be a great way to see what’s around you (that and we’re both health nuts). The Riverside is littered with temples so we got some good sights, and proceeded to sit at the hotel’s elaborate breakfast buffet for about 2 hours. If I’m not careful I’m going to get used to this lifestyle. Speaking of which, we then headed out to show her Bangkok’s glamorous Sukhumvit road. We passed by Terminal 21, the famous mall with 9 stories, each themed to a different global city, and walked to Thong Lor for happy hour. If you’re ever out there, Honey Cafe, although by no means a Thai joint, is absolutely fantastic.
That evening, we met some friends at the Tawandang German Brewery, which is quite a scene. We were treated to some fantastic german beers and food, and a steady flow of Thai performers, showcasing their musical and theatrical talents of both local and Top 40 hits. Again, I know it’s not your traditional Thai culture, but you could almost call it fusion, and let’s be honest, we’re in Bangkok – it’s a global city. The true Thai experiences started the next day, as we left the city and flew to Chiang Mai, after one last lavish breakfast.
I took over the accommodation selections here and opted back to the hostel life. Not only am I a backpacker whose budget needs to last for another couple of months, but I couldn’t let my sister come all the way out here and not experience this life. We got in quite late so all we really had time for was to meet up for dinner with Dedmur and Huy, some fellow backpackers I met back in Vietnam, and whose paths happened to cross ours in Chiang Mai. Always great when that happens and you can hear about each other’s adventures since you last met.
It wasn’t until the next day though, that the fun really started. It was time to visit Wat Phrathat, the famous temple located on Doi Suthep, the mountain towering over Chiang Mai. Yes, I had already seen it before, but temples, especially ones this beautiful, are mandatory for any trip to Thailand. I couldn’t let Sinzy miss out on them and, my last Sai Sin (the white cotton thread that monks bless you with) was looking very grey.
It was also a great opportunity to get her into the backpacker motorbike adventure scene. She bravely agreed so we rented a couple of scooters and, after getting over the first shaky couple of minutes that everyone experiences the first time they hit the throttle, she eased up and we headed up the mountain. Added some elephant pants to her mix and she was starting to look like a real backpacker!
We had a little more time than my first time up Doi Suthep, so we were able to see the sights past the temple. Unfortunately, the palace was closed, but we were able to make it all the way up to the Hmong Hilltribe Village. I expected a bit more of a cultural experience up there, but it was really just a bunch of shops. It did at least seem like they were run by locals that actually lived up there. My sister, with her heart of gold, bought quite a lot from them despite knowing full well that she could get similar items in town for cheaper. We also found a fantastic muslim restaurant that came with a breathtaking view – one which you can only get if you really strut all the way up there!
Continuing with the Thai cultural experiences, she booked us a cooking class at the Chiang Mai Cooking School the next day, which confirmed by belief that you should attend such a class in every country you visit. We learned so much about the Northern Thailand eating habits, how they relate to their culture, and how to partake ourselves. They also took us to a market and taught us what to buy and how much you should actually be paying for it. Not only was it educational, it was also some of the best food I’ve had in Thailand and we came away absolutely stuffed. Of course, since it was my sister’s booking, it was organic too.
After gorging ourselves on our own creations, we countered dinner with nothing but mangoes. That’s right, we strolled up to a smoothie hut, and asked the lady to just chop up some mangoes for us instead of putting them in the blender. She looked a little surprised but complied anyway. Then my sister, while sucking on a particularly juicy bit, said that she needs to overstuff herself on mangoes while she’s here because otherwise, she’s going to go home and try to buy them at triple the price and half the taste.
So we ended up going through 9 mangoes. The lady then closed up for the night.
Continuing with the jam packed days, the next morning, we were picked up bright and early for our tour of Doi Inthanon – Thailand’s highest peak. The drive took over an hour to get to so if you’re an experienced rider, you could do it yourself on motorbikes. Keep in mind though that some of the turn offs to the various waterfalls and peaks are not well marked and easy to miss. Of course, the tour comes with several unnecessary stops at some markets, in hopes that you buy something, for which the tour company no doubt gets a cut. Pros and cons, as always.
The trip was definitely worth it. I think top of the mountain is even nicer than the temples on Doi Suthep. It’s not necessarily the temples themselves that make Doi Inthanon nicer, it’s the whole scenery around there. The gardens surrounding the temples are very beautiful and the view is definitely more scenic. It’s also a lot less crowded so it feels a lot more meditative, something that we both appreciated.
Saturday was unfortunately her last full day, but we left the best for last: the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. We chose it because it is one of the more ethical elephant camps around. The entire time we were there, it truly seemed like the elephants were treated very well and comfortable in their environment. They don’t allow riding as it is exhausting and bad for the elephants. They explained to us how elephant backs are structured very different from those of horses and they do not handle it well. They let us feed them, hug them and then we went to the elephant spa. That’s right, these elephants get to go to the spa every day and have travellers give them mud baths and then rinse them off. Bring a swim suit! The whole experience was very joyous and I really felt like we were sharing all of these activities with the elephants, rather than them just being a prop to our entertainment.
Sadly though, that led into her last night. We went to the river for a nice dinner and hashed out our life, career, travel and relationship goals in a way that only a sibling can do for you: with brutal honesty on both ends! The next day I took her to the airport and sent her back off to Vancouver. I couldn’t believe that the week went by so quick, and at how much we managed to shove in there. She even made my bag lighter by taking some stuff home that I realized I had no business packing when I first left off. The next few days were weird to not travel with her. Guess I’ll have to start taking care of myself again…