I’ve been trying to make sure I make the most of my paid time off, PTO, from work. While I’m always inspired by the “sell all your possessions and travel forever” blogs, that really isn’t a great option if you have a full-time job that you like, and a house, and some pets, and other assorted adult responsibilities. International travel is definitely possible on a limited vacation schedule. It just takes some more strategic planning to make sure you maximize your vacation time and budget(who are we kidding, I have no idea what a budget is.) Picking which is the most important factor for each trip, time or money, helps me when making travel decisions.
For my Thailand trip, time was more important for me than money. This is not to say that money wasn’t a concern, of course, it was, but maximizing my time was more important. The challenge when planning a trip with a group is making sure everyone is on the same page for time and money.
We planned our trip to include two weekends so that we could have 4 extra days before taking PTO.
- 5 schedules
- 5 budgets
- 3 people coming from Cleveland, 1 from Los Angeles, and 1 in Bangkok
- 5 different travel styles
Here’s how it all worked out:
Hannah, Zac and I flew from Cleveland to Tokyo and met Robin in the Tokyo airport. From there we flew to Bangkok and met Michelle there. Robin stayed for the first week and the rest of us stayed in Thailand for another week.
Michelle met us at the Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport and from there we grabbed a taxi and headed to the Once Again Hostel. We were sharing a room with a few other people, so we dropped off our bags in our room and washed off the full day’s worth of airport slime and went to grab dinner. After that we were pretty burnt out, so we went to bed to rest up for a massive day of tourist things on Sunday. The hostel room was nice and we each had our own wood cubbie-bunk which allowed for some privacy.
Since this was Robin’s only full day in Bangkok we tried to hit as many things as possible. It was approx 115 degrees, though, so I’m pretty sure we all almost passed out at one point or another. We went to the Chatuchak Weekend Market then hit Wat Pho/Temple of the Reclining Buddha and took a scalding walk in the sun to the Grand Palace. We fit in a quick ride on motorbike taxis, barely squeezing through the Bangkok traffic and went to the Skybar to appreciate essentially birds eye views of Bangkok. Pretty sure I took 2–3 showers this day. It was a scorcher. Michelle has a great post about Bangkok logistics here.
Up bright and early to head to the Don Muang airport to grab a quick flight to Chiang Mai. It’s interesting seeing the different levels of security in international airports. While the security might have been more relaxed in terms of bringing in water bottles, I learned that security is super extreme when it comes to dissing the King. You can be fined for speaking ill of the King/Prince, so we came up with some code names for them if we were being rude in public. In Chiang Mai, we stayed at Stamps Backpacker hostel. Like Once Again in Bangkok, we each had our own space within the dorm room which is my favorite way to stay in a hostel. These individual spaces had our own walls and a curtain which was even better than the wood cubbies in Bangkok. After dropping off our stuff, we headed to Cat House restaurant down the street for some lunch. They had great vegetarian food and delicious smoothies. Some of our crew took a nap and Robin and I headed out on a stroll around Chiang Mai. We stumbled across Wat Chiang Man, and wandered through a market. We hung out at the hostel for a little bit before heading to bed to rest up for our main Chiang Mai activity: the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary!
We were picked up at our hostel in a truck to head up into the mountains to bond with rescued elephants. We were doing a half day morning visit with the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, which was the perfect amount of time. It took a little over an hour to get to the sanctuary and when we arrived we helped haul some old bananas and assorted snacks for the elephants down to the main area. We suited up in some matching shirts and got to work befriending elephants. We got to feed them bananas and then watch them play in the river. After feeding them some corn, we walked with our new BFFs over to a mud pit and slathered these massive elephants in mud before heading to the waterfall for a soak. The timing was great, nothing felt like we were rushing, but we were able to have lunch and head back to the hostel with plenty of time left in the day to explore.
Some of the elephant pictures are from the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary Facebook page
Our hostel was party central for the Songkran, Thai New Year, festival. The festival is essentially a city-wide water fight, so we dressed for the occasion in swim suits. We walked through the city to observe the Songkran shenanigans and bought a bucket to hurl water at people and spent the afternoon playing drinking games with our new hostel friends. Robin and I got dinner at a cute restaurant across the canal and then we went to bed.
We fit in a quick trip to the Silver Temple before we had to pack up and head to the airport. We were right in the thick of Songkran on the way to the airport and bought cheap ponchos to try to keep our bags dry, but we ended up drenched in sweat instead. Ponchos are not breathable, shocker. We got to the airport and none of our electronics were broken, so I’ll count that as a success. We then hopped on our flight to Surat Thani to prepare to take a bus to a ferry to get to Koh Samui. If I did this trip again, I’d fly direct into Koh Samui, but we were working with a range of budgets, so we made a compromise.
Koh Samui was great, we did a lot of lounging at random resorts along the beach and got beach-front massages. We stayed at the Chill Inn which had a small restaurant for breakfast. We rounded out the time on the island with a cocktail at the Conrad Hotel and got a luxury SUV ride back to our hostel afterwards. We said goodbye to Robin and the Conrad and got ready to ferry on over to Koh Tao the next day.
I liked Koh Tao more than Koh Samui, maybe because I have read all of Alex in Wanderland’s excellent blogging about the island, so I may have come in biased. We stayed at the AC2 hotel which was in a great location. One of the days we hired a longtail boat to take us to Sai Nuan beach to do some snorkeling and lounging. I took a solo hike up a mountain and took a little tumble, but it all turned out okay. There was one hotel near this beach so I grabbed some lunch and a water to rehydrate. I kept forgetting how hot it was and should have had more water before the hike. Other notable activities: fish pedicures(fish eat the dead skin off your feet, definitely a unique sensation) and the Koh Tao Pub Crawl. The pub crawl was a good time, my body wasn’t really accepting the heat, so I didn’t pay to get the drinks part of the pub crawl and kind of just snuck along with everyone else. There was a good mix of people and each bar had a good activity, like Thai ladyboys and fire dancing. We also took a day trip to Koh Nang Yuan, which is three tiny islands connected by sand bars. We hiked to the main view point and swam for a little while. The beach here was made up of lots of shells on one side and we got a little cut up on these, so watch out!
Getting our flight back to Bangkok was an ordeal. We flew out of Chumphon, which only had two flights a day. In between these flights, the airport SHUTS DOWN. Literally, shuts down. We sat in a closed airport for hours. There was no air and no power and no food. We survived, but if you are ever flying in or out of Chumphon, don’t plan to kill some time at the airport, you will regret it. Our last few days in Bangkok we spent getting massages, and hanging poolside at the hotel. We fit in one more rooftop bar, Above Eleven, to take in the views and then bid farewell to Bangkok.
Best souvenirs: tons of face masks. I fell in love with black rubbery peel off face masks and bought as many as I could find.