Early February of this year, I was scrolling through one of my social media news feeds, and came across a picture that completely took my breath away. I mean like one of those very deep gasps, followed by an "Oh. My. God." Upon catching my breath, I realized that this heart-stopping image that just so happened to grace my phone screen was of the Phi Phi islands in Phuket, Thailand. I told myself, "I have to go here for my 23rd birthday this year." So... that's what I did.
I have traveled to numerous countries in Europe, but have never touched the continent of Asia; so I thought, what better time than on my birthday? Plus, I've never even celebrated a birthday outside the country before, and I must say, it was the best decision I've made regarding birthday plans thus far. Now, let's jump right into it...
My travel time to Thailand was a total of 32 hours. Before leaving New York, I was SO nervous, because the longest I've ever flown was 10 hours to Hawaii, so I'm thinking to myself, "How the hell am I going to survive an extra 20?!" I'm not going to lie, it was definitely rough, but I do enjoy long flights, so it was somewhat bearable. We flew through Beijing, and that was a 14-hour flight alone. There we had a 12-hour layover which I didn't mind at all because, like I said, I've never been to any country in Asia, so I was eager to explore! Upon landing in Beijing, we got our temporary Visas, converted about $40 USD to Yuan for taxi rides, bought bus tickets into the city, and we were off to the Tiananmen Square to aimlessly roam because why not?
I was an avid watcher of Avatar: The Last Airbender growing up, so all I could think about while walking through the square and seeing these enormous 30-foot tall doors that resembled some of the architecture in the show, was Aang training to master all 4 elements and save the world from the fire nation. Quick tangent, but back to the topic at hand, my favorite part of the Tiananmen Square was Zhongshan Park, which I had never even heard of before stumbling across it while roaming. It was absolutely gorgeous and so perfectly serene. If it was just 10 degrees warmer, I could've sat out there all day.
I must say, if you are traveling to any country where there can be a language barrier, be sure to download google translate because this was a huge life saver. It seemed as if almost no one spoke English in Beijing, so I would type in what I wanted to say and have google translate repeat it for me in Mandarin. I would've probably still been there now if it weren't for that app. Truly, honestly.
Moving along, after roaming the Tiananmen Square for a few hours, we were starving, and ended up at a 4-star hotel all-you-can-eat buffet. To be honest, the food was really nothing special and it's safe to say, I was super ready to be in Phuket.
Six hours later... and we arrived to Phuket! I was exhausted, but I was there; and that's all that mattered. We checked into our hotel Novotel Phuket Karon Beach Resort & Spa, which was stunning and everything that I expected and more.
Now, onto the fun stuff! The next day we booked our flight to Bangkok, because what's a trip to Thailand without a stop in Bangkok right? The flight was about $45 USD round trip, since traveling domestically in Asia is super cheap. I just had to see if The Hangover was an accurate depiction of all that Bangkok had to offer and I am here to tell you, yes... yes it is. I brought in my birthday bar hopping, went clubbing, and ended up at a nearby seafood market at 4am that had the best shrimp fried rice I've ever tasted in my life, which I unfortunately don’t have any pictures of because I demolished it in about 5 minutes.
By the next morning, exhausted was a huge understatement... it was my birthday and I was contemplating canceling my dinner reservations for room service and sleep. Nonetheless, we did end up going to dinner and I am glad that I mustered up the strength! We ate at the Surface Restaurant & Bar on the rooftop of a Hotel on the beach, so you can hear the waves crashing against the shore as you eat... definitely one of my most memorable birthday meals yet! Not to mention the cheapest! We ordered steaks, lobster bisque, wine, dessert, and more, and the total was about $100 USD. Had that been in NYC we would've paid at least $250. That's one thing Thailand has a reputation for: being ridiculously inexpensive.
The next day was our first all-day excursion, which was the destination that brought me to Phuket in the first place... the Phi Phi (pronounced pee·pee) islands. We departed to the islands by speedboat, and the first island we stopped was Maya Bay, where the movie The Beach was filmed. There we swam, took pictures (of course), and just kind of took it all in... it was truly a sight to see.
From Maya Bay, we went to Shark Point for snorkeling which is what I was most excited for that day. I am seriously like the little mermaid; ever since I was a kid, I've always loved being in the water, and swimming in general, but especially swimming with fish! There's literally an entire world under the ocean, so every time I get to see a snippet of it, I am at peak happiness. I wouldn't have minded staying out there for hours on-end. It's truly my favorite place to be.
Next was lunch on the beach at Phi Phi Don Island, then sightseeing at Loh Samah Bay, Pileh Lagoon, Viking Cave, and Monkey Beach. Upon arriving at Monkey beach, the tour guide said that we wouldn't actually be able to go on the beach because the monkeys can be very dangerous and might try to bite you if they're hungry; so we admired them from afar and they were just the cutest little things!
Our last stop of the Phi Phi islands was Bamboo Island where we kind of unwinded from the long day of exploring, swimming, and swooning over the most magnificent beaches I've been to in all my 23 years of life.
On our last day in Phuket, we spent half the day at the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary in Kathu with some of the sweetest, most gentle creatures I've had the pleasure of spending quality time... and I'm not exaggerating. They are truly so precious and just being able to cater to them, knowing how endangered and abused their species is, was extremely heart warming for me.
Some of you may not know, but you are actually not suppose to ride elephants at all, as this is considered to be a form of abuse. Not only does it shorten their life span by decades, but they also have to be trained and tamed from young to let humans ride on top of them as this is not a natural instinct for wild elephants. Throughout this process, they are beaten into submission, tortured, starved, and deprived of sleep for days... and elephants never forget, so they often develop PTSD. That is why these elephant sanctuaries are so important, as their missions are to protect and care for mistreated elephants rescued from tourism industries. So please, never ride an elephant if you love them as much as I do!
Upon arriving to the Sanctuary, we got to feed the elephants watermelon and plantains for about an hour. They didn't like the plantains so much, but they sure did love them some watermelon! I mean they really didn't like the plantains, they kept spitting them out until they realized the watermelon was finished and they had to settle for cold plantain. I would prefer the watermelon too!
Next, we took a mud bath with them, which is supposed to be really good for their skin, and mine too apparently because it was super soft when we were done! After the mud baths, we swam with them in an outdoor "elephant shower" to wash off all the mud, had a traditional Thai lunch with some bomb Pad Thai, said bye to my newfound elephant friends, and were headed back to our hotel.
As I mentioned, this was our last day, and I was hell-bent on getting a massage before I left because everyone that I spoke to that's been to Thailand told me about how great they are, and it was without a doubt the best massage I've ever gotten, and again... the cheapest! A 90-minute stress relief massage for $30 USD is absolutely unheard of anywhere in the states! I was completely knocked out within the first 20 minutes, but I was more relaxed than I have ever been... like EVER.
An international flight, 2 domestic flights, and 5 days later, I had the most memorable birthday to date, and I'm still so grateful to have been able to experience all that I did. Even with taking a full-week to recover from jet lag, I would do it again, and again, and again. You don't realize how big the world is until you travel somewhere, and every time I do, I'm always taken a back by it; it's sincerely phenomenal and something I don't take for granted in the slightest. I loved everything about this country, so much so, that I had to remind myself to take pictures because I was so busy living in the moment. I really didn't even capture everything that I wanted to, but the memories are embedded in my mind forever and Thailand has certainly not seen the last of me!