For our winter edition, we’ve decided to do something a little different. I’ve been given the distinct pleasure of interviewing one of our very own, the amazing Amanda Kelly. Amanda is a member of our production team, and also just happens to be the office “sweetheart”. When this project sheet came across my desk, and I saw that I was going to learn about her month-long trip to Thailand, I knew I was in for something special.
What I didn’t know, was that not only was I going to hear all about this exciting experience, I was also going to learn about just how brave Amanda is, and just how much in love, she and her wonderful boyfriend Steve truly are.
So why Thailand? “I’ve been lucky enough to have some wonderful travel experiences already under my belt,” says Amanda. “Steve had never been on such a journey, and based on some stories and experiences from a friend who had travelled to Thailand on a 3 week honeymoon, the idea was stuck in his head”.
Amanda was up for the challenge, and so off to Thailand they went!
Amanda was quick to tell me that if you’re interested in this type of vacation, or as for her and Steve more of “travel and exploration”, the first thing you need to expect is a very long flight. “Make sure you have plenty to keep you occupied, and are well versed in the airport that your layover is in,” Amanda explains. “You could end up paying a large sum of money if you’re not familiar with the amenities and the exchange rate that particular airport may have.”
Their trip began in Bangkok. This is where we learn about the difference between “vacationing” and “travelling”. This portion of their trip was one of the very few places the couple pre-booked for their month long adventure. “I wanted the two of us to be able to arrive, and know exactly where we were going for the first few days.” These two adventurous souls could not have been better suited for what the remainder of the trip held in store. Beyond the first couple of days, almost everything else they experienced was unplanned, and the 2 truly flew by the seats of their pants. Once they left the very busy Khaosan Road, a hub for backpackers that offers nightlife, entertainment, markets, and food almost 24 hours a day, they ventured on to Chiang Mai to begin discovering on their own, just what magic this beautiful place had to offer.
It’s important to note that Amanda and Steve prefer to travel in this unstructured manner because it provides them the control to “come and go” from place to place as they please. “Steve was the perfect person for me to travel with,” smiles Amanda, “he’s so easy going, and he really wanted to get a sense for the country and the culture. Everything we experienced and discovered for the most part, we did all on our own.”
It’s not every person who is able to undertake a journey like this and make it an incredibly positive experience. Travelling like Steve and Amanda requires a free spirit mixed with common sense, and a tiny bit of bravery sprinkled in!
“Located 700 km (435 miles) north of Bangkok in a verdant valley on the banks of the Ping River, Chiang Mai was founded in 1296 as the capital of the ancient Lanna Kingdom. Today it’s a place where past and present seamlessly merge, with modern buildings standing side by side with venerable temples.”
The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary in Chiang Mai was among the pioneers of the new ethical elephant attractions which have swept Thailand. Effectively a retirement home for these gentle giants who’ve worked in the often-unpleasant logging and tourism industries, the sanctuary only allows careful interaction between visitors and residents.” The Elephant Sanctuary was one of the many highlights for Amanda and Steve. “The look on Steve’s face while we were there on our visit, made this entire experience priceless for me,” says Amanda. “The beauty and intelligence of these animals is overwhelming.”
This would not be the only time that Amanda was taken aback simply by observing how much fun Steve was having.
The couple spent most of their trip staying at different hostels which, while not the essence of luxury, were clean, efficient and safe. “You can stay at luxurious hotels, and imbibe in fancy restaurants and entertainment if that’s the type of vacation you like,” says Amanda, “but if you’re looking to travel budget-friendly, Thailand has many places you can stay at a minimal (aka cheap) cost.
Now on Koh Samui [Samui Island). “A cosmopolitan melting pot, attracting everyone from budget travellers staying for a month or two in a simple beachside bungalow, to the wealthiest holidaymakers dropping in for a weekend at one of the many luxury resorts or villas. From the hustle and bustle of Chaweng Beach to the lively-yet-relaxed atmosphere of Lamai Beach, Koh Samui is unique among Thailand’s Islands in maintaining a broad appeal for everyone. This environment provides the distinctive relaxed atmosphere that sets it apart.”
This was Amanda and Steve’s favourite spot of the entire trip. Again, when you travel in this freestyle manner, you’ll often find a gem like this, get a great vibe, and stay for as long or as little as you like. “We met a lot of other travellers there, and there’s so much to do on this island. In Thailand most of the excitement and partying happens at night in the markets, but Steve and I preferred the day trips. On this island, the food at the restaurants and street vendors was amazing; there’s something for everyone. Steve and I found a wonderful local pub, and made a visit every night while we were there, which happened to be 5 days. We found a really nice hostel to stay at, and for this stint we stayed there the entire 5 nights.”
For these travellers, the less “tourist-y” the place, the better. Koh Samui was also their first experience with renting a moped so they could really go out and explore. “We took a sunset cruise for our first motorbike trip, and it proved to be one of the best discoveries we made. Riding down some random dirt road, we came across a gorgeous waterfall.” A special moment experienced by just these two adventurers, and one that likely bonded them further. The next day they went back so they could swim this time, and experience it all over again in the light of day. As Amanda explains, “Renting a motorbike is essential to finding hidden treasures on this island, and while Thailand is relatively safe, you do have to be smart, and do some research about where you can go, and what time of day is safe.”
The next adventure for our dynamic duo was one that they suggest everyone should experience, but maybe just once. They’re referring to an event hosted on the island of Ko Phangan called a “Full Moon Party”. Amanda and Steve pre-booked this island because of this party, which Amanda could only describe as “crazy”. This event apparently, is quite infamous around the world. “The Full Moon Party takes place every month throughout the year. Its attractions include “fire skipping ropes”, and “alcohol buckets”! There’s a wide spectrum of music, ranging from trance, to drum and bass, to reggae. The party takes place along and within the many clubs of Haad Rin beach”. It’s a long night, and responsibility for your safety as a tourist/traveller relies squarely on your own shoulders. While it was interesting to experience this event, our couple isn’t running back anytime soon. Once the party was over, Amanda and Steve moved on to Koh Tao, and booked themselves in to a beautiful hotel overlooking the ocean, and just relaxed and recharged for the next couple of days. “We needed some down time, some peace and quiet. This was the perfect way to spend a few days, after all the excitement of the full moon.”
We would be remiss if we didn’t talk about the Phi Phi Island experience, as it’s regarded as “the” tourist destination in Thailand. Steve and Amanda chose to head over, because when you’re there for a month, you might as well experience everything. “This island is beautiful, however, extremely busy, and very tourist-oriented. For Steve and I, it wasn’t really our cup of tea, but we did have a couple of fun and unique excursions.”
From the island’s website: “North-west of Loh Dalam Bay, the hidden cove of Ao Ling (Monkey Bay) is home to a colony of monkeys. Not shy at all, they won’t hesitate to climb onto the legs of their visitors in search of a banana. Several times a day, speed boats stop here and drop off dozens of tourists who feed all the monkeys, then leave right after. The traffic never stops, and the monkeys wait patiently. They’re not afraid to move into the sea to get their precious bananas! But be aware, these monkeys can be aggressive and hostile if approached.”
One of the last destinations on our couple’s month long journey was Krabi/Railay. “Krabi is the perfect holiday destination for those looking for a relaxing area in southern Thailand. The province, located between Phang Nga and Trang, features stunning scenery both inland and at sea. With over 150 islands off its 150km-long coastline (many of them featuring fantastic white sand beaches and turquoise waters), it features a jungle-covered interior, towering limestone cliffs, caves, waterfalls and exotic wildlife. Krabi has a great variety of natural assets that offer visitors a wide array of activities. The province of Krabi is less developed and crowded than Phuket, more laid back than Koh Samui, and just 80 minutes by air from Bangkok. With a range of accommodation from budget to deluxe, this idyllic province really is the ultimate destination.”
Krabi became one of Steve and Amanda’s favourite spots as well. It’s simply beautiful, and you can choose from exciting nightlife options, stunning beaches and great snorkeling. The couple couldn’t be more grateful for the experience. They stayed in different hostels every few nights and during the day soaked up the sun, did some shopping, and even managed to have some down time, before heading back to Bangkok to wrap up their Thailand experience.
There are some key points that Amanda wanted to share with all of you, should Thailand wind up on your travel bucket list.
Make sure you pack light. The majority of their wardrobe they bought while there, as it’s very cheap. This also allows you to fly with only carry-on, which is very convenient and much easier to travel with vs. large, heavy, luggage.
Transportation within the country is very reasonable they took a few cheap flights to different parts of the country as well as ferry and bus trips. Trains are also an option.
Get your shots! Visit your local travel clinic 2-3 months prior to your departure. They can explain all of your healthcare questions, concerns, and give you guidance.
Just as when travelling to any foreign country, keep your guard up. Keep your money in a safe spot. Do your homework, and educate yourself on local safety.
As I said in the beginning of this article, the interview led me to appreciate many things. Thailand itself would be an experience like no other, and if it sounds like your type of place, it will definitely not disappoint. On a more personal level I was able to get to know this lovely woman better, the one who lights up our office. I think I got to know Steve better as well. Their experience was one based on friendship, trust, and love. This trip will serve to further solidify their next travel experience, as well as their journey through life together.
That’s an experience everyone should have.
WRITTEN BY: KELLI M. MADDOCKS