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It’s been exactly one month (to the day) since I published my last post here on CiaraODoherty.com, which means I’m finally back from my trip to Thailand with my sister Briona. It really was the trip of a lifetime, I am so excited to share all the details with you here. Despite my acute depression at being back in Ireland (when did it suddenly become Winter?!) it feels so great to be back to regular blogging again. To summarise, we spend three weeks in Thailand, in three very different areas. We started in Bangkok and traveled to the city of Chiang Mai for a press trip with the Thai Tourism Board, before spending our last week on Koh Tao, one of the small islands on the country’s western shore.
Let me just start by saying that from the very first day, I completely fell in love with this country. When people think of Thailand, they imagine endless white beaches and a idyllic, tropical paradise, but there is so much more to Thailand than it’s landscape. I was completely swept away by it’s rich culture and history, it’s opulent temples, it’s incredible food, but most of all, I fell in love with it’s people. We were so far away from home, yet myself and Briona felt 100% safe at each and every moment, and I honestly don’t think I’ve ever experienced such a warm and welcoming atmosphere, wherever we went. You have to experience it to believe it. Pay a visit to Thailand and you fill fall in love with it’s people above anything else, I promise you.
Myself and Briona spend a few days here at the very beginning and end of our trip with the Tourism Board, and I definitely recommend taking at least a day or two to stay here (most likely after your flight over) and check yourself in somewhere nice to relax after your long journey. We stayed in the gorgeous Shangri La Hotel, and I couldn’t imagine more beautiful surroundings to relax and unwind in, it’s such a stunning hotel. During our short time in Bangkok we visited the Grand Palace and the Arts of the Kingdom, both of which are breathtakingly opulent, and a must if you are interested in Thai history.
The main part of our trip was spent in Chaing Mai (the country’s Northern Capital) and after experiencing it ‘s beauty for myself, I urge anyone going to Thailand to put it on your list! Internal flights from Bangkok are extremely affordable (ours we’re under €50) and there are plenty of gorgeous resorts to stay in, we choose the Rarin Jinda Spa and Welness resort, and treated ourselves to a blissful day of treatments when we first arrived. The staff, the food, the spa, everything was spectacular, and I can’t recommend it enough!
Overall, Chiang Mai is so much more relaxed and laid-back than Bangkok, and with far less tourists than any of the southern islands, so it’s a much more authentic Thai experience. Far from boring however, It’s huge hub for outdoor and cultural activities, and we tried to fit in as much as we possibly could. See some of my favourites below:
- We ate at Riverside Restaurant, Cafe De Nimman, Cuisine De Garden to name a few
- We visited some of the regions most beautiful temples and learned about the Buddhist faith
- We learned how to care for Elephants at the Bang Chang Elephant Sanctuary
- We took a Thai cooking class at Panatwan Cooking
- We spent a full day trekking through the jungle to waterfalls, zip-lining and white-water rafting with 8 Adventures
- We wandered the Chiang Mai night markets (great for street food and shopping) and caught a famous Ladyboy Cabaret show
- We took a biking tour of rural Chiang Mai (the views!)
- We visited the Queen Sirikit Botanical Garden (don’t miss the Canopy Walkway)
- We visited the Nong Hoi Royal Project development centre to learn about the incredible work the Royal Family have done for the Thai people
- We had dressed up in traditional Thai-Lanna costume for a Classical Lana Night at the Ban Monfai Cultural Centre
- We had a meditation Meditation workshop at Wat Umong where a Buddhist Monk taught us to quiet our minds
These are some of the activities from our time in Chiang Mai that really stood out to me, but there is so much more to do and see in this beautiful place. Be sure to watch my full Thailand Travel Vlog for a glimpse at some of what I mentioned above, it really was such a jam-packed trip!
After our time in Chiang Mai, myself and Briona headed straight to Koh Tao to spend the rest of the trip by the sea. I’m sure you’ve heard about the tropical paradise that is the coastal region already, so I’m not going to try to convince you of how beautiful this part of Thailand is (you can see it for yourself in my video) but what I do recommend is that you visit, and that you do a diving course while there.
The main reason myself and Briona went to Koh Tao is because it’s one of the best (and most affordable) places in the world to learn to dive. Briona was already an experienced diver, but I was a total newbie eager to learn the ropes, so it was really important that we found a good company to learn with. After some research I decided to do my Beginner & Advanced Open Water Diving Course with Bans Diving, both of which took me about a week to complete. Despite being Koh Tao’s biggest diving school, their classes are small and their instructors extremely dedicated, and I had a brilliant time in both my courses. My instructor was an English chap called Dan, who was helpful, relaxed and extremely patient (he taught me, after all.) You will have a great experience learning with him, even if you’re nervous about the course, which many can be. If you are interested in diving on Koh Tao (which I strongly recommend!) be sure to check out Dan’s facebook page, and he’ll be happy to anwser any questions you might have about the course. I actually recommend contacting him directly before emailing Bans Diving, as they’re a big company and were a bit slow with emails, understandably. If Dan isn’t available himself, I’m sure that he can recommend plenty of other fantastic instructors that are free, so don’t worry.
Another handy thing about Ban’s is that it boasts it’s own beautiful resort right next to the beach so you can book your diving and accommodation in one. Our room was air conditioned, super clean, extremely affordable (if you are taking a dive course you get further discounts!) and it overlooked the infinity pool which you can see above, heaven! What surprised me most about the resort is that it’s almost completely self-sufficient, which means it almost exclusively uses recycled and re-purposed materials, locally grown food, and even it’s toiletries are made from the tropical fruits and plants that are grown on the resort for their restaurant. Unfortunately, the landscape and ecosystems of Thailand’s costal islands are often negatively impacted by the huge tourism industry, so Ban’s gets major eco-friendly points for having such a big focus on sustainability and conservation. I digress, back to the diving!
You have to try it. For someone who adores the water (I grew up by the sea) learning to dive was one of the most incredible experiences ever, and getting to watch all the beautiful fish underwater, oh it’s like a dream. Even though I still have so much to learn and improve on with diving (my instructor Dan could tell you a story or two) I’m so happy to have stumbled upon a completely new passion, and one that will stick with me for life. Myself and Briona are already planning where we’re going to dive together next, we’re straight-up hooked, and if you try it, you will be too.
Thats all for this short travel guide, and I hope you enjoyed it. If you are planning a trip to Thailand soon, or if this post has convinced you to book a flight, then don’t be a stranger! Let me know in the comments below, or shoot me and email at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know your plans. I’d be happy to anwser any more questions you have, and even give you a few more tips and pointers before you go.
Want more travel content? Make sure to check out the hashtag #CODtravels over on my Instagram to catch up on all my travel posts, and be the first to know where I’m off to next. I’ll be back in a few days with another post looking at all the outfits I wore while away, so stay tuned for that one coming very soon.
Watch the Travel Vlog:
And finally, have you watched my travel vlog?! It took me about three days to make so you damn well better. **shakes fist**