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Thailand Explorer

Northern Highlights with Contiki

My first trip to Thailand was an ultimate life changing experience. It is one of my favorite places I have visited so far. I understand why they call it the " Land of Smiles'. I had always thought of going to Thailand and I really only knew about the islands, but when I was researching the different tour options, I discovered the Northern Highlights. I decided to go off the beaten path if you will. I wanted to get an in depth experience of the customs and the cities that you typically do not hear about. The tour was 9 days and it was perfectly planned. For this trip, I had my friend, Andrea, join me on my usual Contiki solo adventures. Northern Thai Highlights was the tour ( for more information on this tour, click here. )

This trip was full of adventure, culture and incredible food. Street food was on another level. The people were even better. We began the tour in Bangkok and ended in Chiang Mai.


Bangkok is a very buzzing city, filled with temples, tuk tuks & fun nightlife.

Our hotel was in the heart of the city and walking distance to Khao San Road. First stop was to get a massage. It is all I have been hearing about. For about 150 baht ( $5 ) you can get a 30 minute foot massage. I lost count on how many I got during this trip. That evening we set out to Khao San Road. This is a street filled of life. There is music, street food, massages in every corner and the best coconut ice cream ever. As I am very adventurous I had to try a Scorpion. They are crunchy and taste list a chip. If you dare, I suggest you try it!

In Bangkok you will find beautiful temples. We visited The Grand Palace and Wat Arun which means the temple of dawn. When visiting these temples, you should always have your shoulders and knees covered as well. It is hot pretty much always, so although you have to cover up, cover yourself up with loose fitting closes. Do not wear jeans!


Today was an incredibly special day. We were off in mini vans through winding roads on the mountains to go to an Elephant Sanctuary. On our way, we made some stops to visit some key places with loads of history. We stopped at the "Bridge over the River Kwai"This railroad bridge was built in 1942 to supply the Japanese forces in Burma during World War II. Over one hundred thousand laborers died during its 16 month construction and a memorial is set for them. It is still functional to this day.

Arriving at the Elephant Sanctuary was a feeling like when you go to Disney World for the first time. I was so excited to be able to feed, bathe and swim with these elephants. They were all females and were all rescued from tourist trap Elephant tours and shows. They truly are the most gentle creatures. For being so massively big, you could not hear them walking behind you. We fed them pounds of watermelon, then bathed them in mud. Afterwards some of us went into the river to wash them off and just hung out with them. One of the best experiences I have ever had.

After we left the sanctuary, we grabbed a small overnight bag, as we were going to be staying in a remote special location. The only way to arrive is through small long boats. We traveled about 20 minutes to our home for the night. Jungle River Hotel. It is a floating river hotel with absolutely no electricity. ( no Wifi ). There was no option but to be disconnected. Which I gladly accepted. We only stayed for a night, but if you ever find yourself in Thailand, I recommend staying there for a couple days and just be in peace.

Tip: Bring mosquito spray.

We floated in the river with our Changs and chatted all night.

In the morning we had a special visitor. Wendy, she is the local elephant. She comes every morning to get fed watermelon. I was one of the first people up in the morning, so I was lucky to have a moment with her and feed her.

We headed off on our small long boats to get in our mini vans to Erawan National Park. This park has 7 tier waterfalls surrounded by deciduous forest. All tiers are accessible by a series of trails and footbridges all the way up to the 6th tier. Last tier is accessible by scrambling up a few cliffs, for those who like a bit more challenge. One thing to note, is when you go to Erawan falls, you have to make sure you are in appropriate covered clothing until you actually go into the waterfall. One thing I thought was a genius idea, which should probably implemented everywhere is that if you come with a bottle of water, you have to pay 20 baht to access with it. As you leave with your bottle, you will be refunded your money. This ensures people to walk out with the bottle instead of tossing it.


After leaving the waterfalls, we headed off to our next adventure in a town called Ayutthaya. There we jumped on bikes and biked through ornate temples, towering spires, and quaint villages. There is so much history and preservation in Thailand.

That night, we were supposed to head off on an overnight train, but due to the Thailand New Years, Songkran, we weren't able to board so we headed off on a big bus to our next destination. No one minded because we were so exhausted from our full day.


Songkran Festival. One of the most beautiful celebrations I have ever experienced in my life. The Songkran Festival is a time when family and friends gather to pay gratitude to elders and visit temples for prayer and offering. Songkran means to pass or move into. The Songkran Festival is used to welcome the New Year. If you go to Thailand during this time ( April 13 - 15 ) you will get wet, all day, everyday. The original tradition of Songkran is to sprinkle water on people, but travelers and locals have taken the celebration to another level. You are soaked with cannons, water guns and buckets of water every where you go, taking the blessing to a beautiful extreme. It signifies the washing away of bad thoughts and actions. This brings you good luck in the new year. This was my 30th birthday trip so it felt fitting that I was celebrating a new year.

We celebrated this festival in a town called Pai. One of my favorites of the entire trip. We stayed in these little bungalows and although we weren't so close to the main part of town, we had transportation to and from. The first day some of us set out to do a traditional Muay Thai class. In the heat. I am a very athletic person and love challenges. Practicing with world champions in their own training facility was so fun. Hard, but fun. Needless to say, I can kick some butt. After a tough workout, we headed off to town.

The main road in Pai was lit up with lights and beautiful flower arches. The street food was so good, all I wanted to do was to eat. We spent the night walking up and down and meeting different tourists and landed ourselves in this bar called Paizy Bar. Live music, great drinks ( bucket drinks ) and Jenga. Jenga with a twist. Each piece had a truth or dare. All in good fun.

The next day was the first day of Songkran. We all had bought water guns and waterproof fanny packs. We went into town and getting wet was an understatement. We were soaked in the first 5 minutes. It was a wonderful site to see. Everyone was so happy and smiling. Everyone welcomed the water. The elderly women of the town would come and pour water on your head and say "sah-wah-dee pee mai". It was magical. That night we met some fellow travelers from Netherlands and Portugal. We became great friends and partied in Paizy Bar.

Chiang Mai

We set off to Chiang Mai. A buzzing city, similar to Bangkok. Lots of energy. That night we went to take a Thai cooking class. I was so excited for this because throughout the entire trip I had been eating delicious food and could not wait to learn how to cook it. We made all sorts of dishes. All the ingredients were fresh and so tasty. I could not move after the class, because I ate everything!

During my trip, I had been chatting with my cousin who lives in New Zealand. I hadn't seen him in over 15 years. We noticed we were both in Thailand, specifically we were both in Chiang Mai. As the Songkran celebration continued and after another foot massage, my friends and I set out to find my cousin. He was preforming in a concert. Who knew I was going to be in Thailand, reuniting with my cousin and dancing in water with my friend and my new friends.

This was our last night, and we headed off to the street markets. Lots of shopping took place. The streets were lined up with shops, street food, entertainment and more. After shopping, we met up with our friends who we met in Pai and went to a local bar filled with lights. That night we celebrated my friends 30th birthday with our new friends. As we said our goodbyes, better yet, our see you laters, we both were in awe of what a magical place Thailand is. I knew in that very moment, I was coming back. Sooner rather than later. ( Thailand Part 2 coming soon)


Just go, Kayla

Click here if you want to learn more about Thailand tips. watch video below


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