THAILAND: THE LAND OF BLUE SKIES AND CLEAR WATERS

Around six months ago, I have decided to escape the winter in Beirut. I have been planning a vacation for so long and the day has finally come. So I packed my bags and headed to Thailand, the country where it is forever warm. It was a much-needed vacation, and everything about this trip was simply fabulous!

I remember the vibe that I was getting from traveling since it’s been so long that I haven’t left Beirut, and I was so excited to finally go somewhere new. Everything about the vacation was ultimately exceptional, starting from packing my bags, leaving to the airport, boarding, and flying with Emirates Airlines.

Travel Tip 1: when traveling to a new place, you get excited about discovering the places and touristic attractions. Do not splurge on a fancy hotel. Book something with a decent bed and a clean shower and that will do just fine. Trust me, you won’t spend any time in the hotel if you’re a bag packer. Optimize your spendings and on the saved cash, you can treat yourself with lobsters… And if you’re not a fan of seafood, shopping is always the right way out.

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Travel Tip 2: When packing for a vacation to the southeast, go lightweight. Do not get anything more than flip flops, swim suits, beach dresses, shorts, sandals and some light tops. Let your jeans stay at home, the humidity won’t let you wear them.

Travel Tip 3: When on vacation, go easy on the makeup especially when you’re in a humid country. Take it easy on the foundation and let your skin breathe. I would advise you taking only sunscreen, powder, mascara, lip balm, bronzer and brow pencil (avoidable if you got permanent makeup – like me). I would also advise getting keratin lash lifting to curl your lashes before your trip, or getting eyelash extensions if you’re not a fan of applying mascara.

I was astonished by the technology on airlines nowadays! First of all, the cabin crew is gorgeous! It seems like for a cabin crew member to be selected, they would have to pass through Victoria’s Secret casting! I entered the plane to Bob Marley’s Could You Be Loved and fell in love with the experience instantly! The in-flight entertainment program (ICE) offered me the opportunity to watch so many new movies, listen to my favorite music and most importantly, finish an academic paper and submit it with the WiFi on board! I was really amazed. The flight to DXB airport was almost unnoticeable! 4 hours flew by and here I was, shopping in Dubai’s duty-free. I treated myself with a Swarovski choker that can be worn as a bracelet as well, from their Crystaldust collection in Emerald color. I haven’t taken it off since.

A couple of hours later, I was boarding to my next, six-hour flight to Bangkok, with Emirates Airlines, definitely. The experience was amazing. I was able to take a nap as well, that is a primary and unavoidable action that happens on every flight I take!

Two movies and one Big Bang Theory season later, here I was in Bangkok – The City That Never Sleeps. Somehow I felt like I landed in Beirut after a dry summer in Donetsk, due to the immense humidity and heat. Nevertheless, it felt great. Bangkok international airport is one of Asia’s busiest airports. I was pleased to see a huge cultural and ethnical diversity in the airport, that catered so many nationalities such as Thai, Arabs, Russians, Chinese, French, British, Hungarian, American, Australian and so many more people from all over the world. You don’t see so many diverse nationalities in Beirut at the same pace every day.

Bangkok welcomed me well. It still reminded me somehow of Beirut, but it is so different, in words that I can’t describe. It is a feeling you get only once you live the experience. Even though I arrived at night (and it was still afternoon in Beirut) and was jet lagged AF, I had no single feeling of fatigue as I wanted to start exploring the Big City at 4 in the morning.

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Bangkok is a highly urbanized and crowded city. I heard several negative remarks about the city before going there and honestly couldn’t care less because I wanted to experience the city in my own way. So here is what I did in Bangkok before leaving to Phuket:

  • Had a Thai foot massage: because after a 12-hour long trip, trust me you wouldn’t feel your feet. In Bangkok, there are so many massage salons, that I actually forgot in which one I had mine done. However, they’re all pretty much the same. I kicked off my Thai experience with a foot massage. The relaxing and soothing ambiance got me into a state of nap. The best part is that the foot massage cost only 200 baht ($6).
  • Take a ride on the local Tuktuk cab: because the Thai life cannot be fully embraced without a Tuktuk

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  • Go Wat hopping: a Wat is what Thai people call a Temple. In the majority of Southeast Asian countries, including Thailand, people practice Buddhist religion. In the city of Bangkok alone, there are 40,717 temples which range from small local temples to huge ones that are considered to be touristic destinations. Usually, such large temples are overcrowded with tourists. Therefore, I would advise visiting smaller ones in order to get a true feel of the Buddhist vibe. When I was visiting, Thailand was mourning the death of their king, Bhumibol Adulyadej, who passed away after a long illness in October 2016. Locals were expressing their grief and required tourists to dress humbly when visiting Wats (restrain from flashy and revealing clothing). Even though I recommend visiting smaller Wats, but not visiting the Grand Palace Temple would be a huge mistake! Its massive buildings and astonishing architecture will leave you speechless. See for yourself:
  • Take a walk on Khao San road. This road is one of the most favorite destinations of tourists visiting Bangkok. Khao San is so unique just by being a ghetto Road filled with bars, restaurants, small retailers selling ethnic clothing, souvenirs, local fruits, handicrafts, and other cheap “stuff”. You can find locals selling fried cockroaches and insects. You can get yarn braid your hair there for as cheap as a dollar per braid for a hippie look. I got my ear pierced at Khao San for $30, which included the piercing and healing kit. I called it the Bangla Road of Bangkok (keep reading to know what Bangla Road is).
  • Take a ferry ride on Chao Phraya River. The most amazing thing about the ferry cruise was the idea is that it is a taxi ride but on water. It wasn’t some fancy boat cruise with a 5-star dinner. It was actually the route we took to get to the Grand Temple and to Khao San Road. It is amazing that there are such alternatives to escape the daily traffic jam of the big city and get to wherever you need to go by water. I hope Beirut adopts this system soon enough!
  • Grab lunch at HINA restaurant in MBK mall. Did I already mention how cheap Thailand is? For only 339 baht ($10) you get an open buffet with Miso Soup, soft drinks, sushi, salad, side dish and dessert!!!

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After spending a couple of days in Bangkok, we headed to the Phuket – The Island That Never Sleeps! Phuket was something unbelievable. It is an enormous city built on an island. It is unbelievable to see such a city booming as if it hadn’t been wrecked by a tsunami back in late 2004. We reached the island by an internal flight within an hour only. As soon as we reached, it was raining cats and dogs, but as we reached the hotel, the rain had stopped and we were at sunbathing at Patong beach in no time!

The beach was crowded with Russians, and it felt so unusual to be on the other side of the globe with so many people who speak the same language as you do. Now here are the things that you should do the next time you drop by to Patong beach in Phuket:

  • Definitely, try the fresh coconut: For only 30 to 60 Baht ($0.88 to $1.77), you can buy a real coconut! People were going nuts for those fresh coconuts. It is definitely a must-try, especially after a long day in the sun. Not only is the chilly and refreshing fresh coconut water plain delicious, it also has so many health benefits that come in handy during a vacation.

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  • Try the exotic street food: That includes dried octopus, calamari, fish, fried pork chops, and exotic fruits. The exotic fruits are DEFINITELY SOMETHING! You can get an overdose from all the dragon fruit, passion fruit, mangosteen, durian, rambutan, baby pineapples, mango, papaya, and longans.
  • Go parasailing: For only 1,200 Baht ($35; probably the most expensive thing that I did in Thailand) you can go on a parasailing trip on Patong beach. You climb up that parachute and up up and away you go. The fun part is that you never go alone, but with a local dude that clenches on that parachute and sails it according to the direction of the wind. And always remember, the view is worth the flight.
  • Take a walk on Bangla Road: AHA!! Behold, the Red Light District of Phuket! The infamous Bangla Road! As the sun goes down, Bangla road becomes alive and all transvestites come out like vampires in the night. Walk at your own responsibility as it is surely the craziest street of the whole wide world. The road is 400 meters long and crowded with tourists and locals selling ping pong shows (GROSS). Nevertheless, when you’re in Patong and feel like having a night of your life and have some good cheap beer, Bangla Road is where you should be.
  • Visit the Elephant Park. I would like to call this park an emotional rollercoaster. At least I got on one. First of all, you get so excited to see so many adorable elephants and I was so excited to ride on one. As I was waiting for my elephant to arrive, I began hating myself for doing this. Seeing those majestic creatures getting tortured and forced to do something they probably they don’t want to do, and being locked up in chains, really made me feel uncomfortable. The peak of my “uncomfortableness” was when the local dude dropped the stick which he uses to hit the elephant whenever he/she (never it) misbehaves (luckily my elephant was a good girl all the time and that dude didn’t use it on her), and my elephant picked it with her trunk and gave it back. I was SHOCKED! How majestic and beautiful and intelligent these creatures are! This gave me the feels and I turned an exciting moment into a miserable for myself. I still get feels until today when I remember those elephants trapped in those chains and are treated like slaves. After the trekking route was over, and my mascara reached my neck, I couldn’t hold back the feeling of guilt and self-loathing. So I decided to apologize to my elephant by giving her some bananas. She winked at me and waved with her trunk as she went away, and I understood that we were okay. So long my dear elephant, you will be missed. And now a travel tip, or more of a personal request: Never go elephant trekking. In fact, tourism that promotes animal abuse should be banned worldwide. In fact, you can visit elephant sanctuaries where they live in their natural habitats. You can spend some time with elephants to feed them, bathe them and show them love.
  • Embrace the Thai Life with traditional Thai food, such as Thom Yum Kung (Spicy Shrimp Soup), Gaeng Keow Wan Kai (Green Chicken Curry), Som Tum (Spicy Green Papaya Salad), Tom Kha Kai (Chicken in Coconut Soup), and Pad Thai (Thai style fried noodles). It will all be an unbearable at first, especially if you’re not used to spicy food, but believe me once you’re back home, you’ll be adding curry and hot spices even to your hummus.
  • Go Shopping on Patong streets. And don’t just buy the cliche souvenirs. I fell in love with the bohemian harem pants, I got myself 3 pairs with different prints (among the numerous ethnic clothing pieces) that I still wear today.

Finally, you MUST visit the paradise islands near Phuket. You can buy a sightseeing tour to James Bond Island, Bamboo Island, Monkey Beach or Phang Nga Bay, OR you can book an express boat to the Phi Phi islands and live the real island life. Within 2 hours, you arrive at Krabi port (the home of the Phi Phi Islands). 2 hours may sound long, but not when you’re on a 4 layer boat crowded with nothing but tourists. Some are hungover, and some are still drunk. You can enjoy a sunbathing session on the roof deck, or just feel an out-of-this-world experience while passing by the marvelous rocky islands of the Andaman Sea.

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Once you arrive at Krabi port, you can just spend the day chilling on Krabi beach, or you can take a small ferry boat that will take you to the beach resort where you have booked your stay at (like we did). We headed to the Kho Phi Phi Don islands to grab a taste of La Isla Bonita. We spent three days at Phi Phi Relax Beach Resort and those were the most relaxing, laid-back days of my life. Spending the days away from technology, the internet, social networks, electricity, and television made me reconsider my life priorities and just spend some time thinking about nothing.

The to-do list for Phi Phi island is pretty short. Out of the adventurous things that you could do are kayaking in the Andaman Sea, fish, sea urchin and coral snorkeling, and go jungle hiking to reach a pretty sexy viewpoint. Other than that, Phi Phi is a very calm island. I would say that Phi Phi is the island that ALWAYS sleeps. If you are looking for a place to escape the business of a big city or unwind from daily hassles and just want to free your mind, Phi Phi is the right place for you.

As the vacation was over, the only thing that made me look forward to heading back to Beirut was Assya, whom we left home (of course someone was looking after her).

Leaving Bangkok was somehow unpleasant. After 15 days of vacation, I felt that I still was not ready to get back to the hassle of Beirut’s lifestyle, as I had so many things to do and so many people to see. Well, at least I was tanned.

If you ask me where is my next vacation destination, I would definitely say Thailand. Everything about the country is simply amazing. Whether it’s the food, the local people, the islands, the Wat architecture, the prices, the lifestyle, or the beliefs, the country definitely shook me.

“Southeast Asia has a real grip on me. From the very first time I went there, it was a fulfillment of my childhood fantasies of the way travel should be” – Anthony Bourdain

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