Monday, March 30, 2015

Travel :: Elephant's World


After Erawan Falls we headed south to Elephant's World. As soon as we booked our trip to Thailand it became apparent that riding an elephant was a very unusual and popular experience that many people partake in while visiting Thailand. I was thrilled at the thought and started even looking into staying at an elephant camp. However, a small part of me started to wonder how ethical the elephant trekking camps that I had seen so many of my Facebook friends visit over the years actually were. After doing a significant amount of research I decided against riding an elephant. We were going to opt out of the experience all-together, but while booking our trip to Erawan Falls with BKK Tours they mentioned that we might also be interested in adding on a stop at Elephant's World.

The name Elephant's World immediately brought to mind some kind of theme park, so my first response was that I wasn't interested due to ethical reasons, but after talking with the tour planner I realized that Elephant's World was actually an amazing non-profit whose only goal is to better the lives of Elephant's. I did my homework and was thrilled to have found such a charitable organization whose motto is "At Elephant's World we work for the elephants, instead of them for us!"

We arrived to Elephant's World around 1PM and were immediately in awe of it's gorgeous location. Set in the rolling countryside and surrounded by mountains, it is a place where elephants and other rescued animals roam safely and freely. Stray dogs somehow magically show up at the property and are given food and shelter - it's like somehow they sense that it is a safe haven for all living creatures. It is run by volunteers, many of whom explained they had visited and fell so in love with it that they never left. We first spent time feeding the elephants and learning more about them. Most lived in elephant trekking camps and had become old or sick and were getting ready to be "disposed of." Elephant's World rescues them, allowing them to live out their retirement in peace and harmony. 

After spending time with Bo, an ancient, blind elephant with wrinkly skin and a love for rice balls we walked to the River Kwai to bath the elephants and swim with them! They even allowed us to climb on top of the elephant's necks for a few minutes which was absolutely amazing. Being able to pet, touch and hug these majestic creatures was truly an experience I will cherish for the rest of my life. Ryan and I played with "our elephant" Rom Sai, a retired logging elephant, then went on to feed him a bushel of fruit {watermelon being his favorite}. It's hard for me to put into words how wonderful and meaningful the afternoon was, but if you're ever in the Bangkok area I couldn't recommend a trip to Elephant's World enough!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Travel :: Hotel Muse, Bangkok


During our four nights in Bangkok we stayed at the Hotel Muse, a boutique hotel with a speakeasy meets Restoration Hardware vibe. While the location and service were great, what made this hotel special was really the details. 

Design details like antique art, gallery walls galore, vintage rugs, stunning ceiling molding, herringbone wood floors and beautiful marble showers. Luxurious details like fluffy beds, the silkiest linens I have ever slept in {HEAVENLY!}, an infinity pool with an amazing view of downtown and the coolest rooftop bar. And unique details like preloaded in-room playlists, claw foot bathtubs and a make your own Bloody Mary bar in the mornings. 

The swanky vibe reminded me of staying in a downtown billionaire bachelor-pad {because I'd know, right?} and really added to making our experience in Bangkok that much more enjoyable!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Travel :: Erawan Falls


On our last day in Bangkok we took a private day trip with BKK Tours to Kanchanaburi, about a three hour drive. Unfortunately earlier that morning I had woken up with a terrible flu, but I wasn't going to let that stop me from missing out on one of the days I was most looking forward to on our entire trip! Thankfully our car ride was amazing as we had a luxury van with leather seats that fully reclined. Plus there was a 30" flat screen, bedazzled ceiling and a strobe light in the back...it was pretty hilarious. Needless to say we kept the strobe light off as it didn't really encourage a peaceful rest :)

Our first stop was Erawan Falls, a beautiful national park that features seven different waterfalls you can hike to and swim in the pools below. The catch? The pools are filled with hundreds of fish that love nothing more than to nibble your toes and eat the dead skin off your feet. I had been anxious about it and thought perhaps I wouldn't even get in, but it was so hot by the time we got to the first swimming area I couldn't rip my hiking gear off fast enough! My technique to keep the fish away was kicking and flailing violently, and it worked like a charm.

The most fun part of visiting the falls was being able to ride down the falls like a water slide. We had a near catastrophic experience when Ryan got a little too excited and went down the wrong falls crashing into a big rock, but thankfully he is quite resilient and only ended up with a few bumps and bruises. All in all it was a wonderful experience and a perfect respite from the hustle and bustle of Bangkok!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Travel :: Exploring Bangkok


Well hello there! We're back from Thailand with some very exciting news - we're engaged!! So, needless to say, the trip was absolutely amazing. It was by far the most wonderful vacation we have every had and safe to say that I have never felt more relaxed and more happy. As usual I took way too many pictures, so I'll start by sharing a little about our first stop - Bangkok.

We arrived into Bangkok around 11PM and were absolutely exhausted from the trip. We were picked up at the airport by our hotel and whisked into downtown Bangkok in their BMW {it felt a little like we were in a James Bond movie!} Being that it was our first trip to Asia, driving into the bustling metropolis of Bangkok was quite thrilling. By the time we arrived to the Hotel Muse we had gotten our second {or probably, in all honesty, fifth} wind thanks to adrenaline so we decided to check into our room and head up to the rooftop bar for a cocktail. The feeling of arriving into a new place for the first time and not knowing what the next hour, day or week holds is absolutely thrilling - and as we stood seemingly above the city hand-in-hand we felt like the entire world was right at our fingertips.

The next morning we slept in and decided to visit the famous Blue Elephant for lunch, which came highly recommended by my best friend Brooke. We started with cocktails {because why not, we were on vacation!}, then appetizers, then went on to order green curry with river prawns and yellow curry with lump crab, which were both AMAZING. 

After a much larger meal than we had anticipated, and the jet lag starting to hit me, we decided to head back to the hotel to nap and swim. By that time our friends Scott and Sara who were traveling with us for the first half of the trip arrived to the hotel, so we met-up with them and headed out to dinner at Issaya Siamese Club. Voted one of Asia's top 50 restaurants, this Thai fusion restaurant is housed in a 100-year-old villa and feels like eating in an eccentric aristocrat's residence. I didn't bring my camera that night, but it felt too beautiful not to show you so I grabbed some photos off the restaurant's website. We ate the most delicious snapper and drank lemongrass cilantro mojitos which were unbelievably delicious. For dessert we had a jasmine panna cotta with jasmine ice cream and dragon fruit which four weeks later I am still dreaming about!

To finish the evening we went to the infamous Sky Bar, which was where several scenes of the Hangover Two were filmed. While undoubtedly touristy {and very crowded} the views were unbelievable and definitely not to be missed. Again, because I didn't bring my camera I grabbed a few photos from the website just to show you how breathtaking the views truly were.

The next day we booked a private tour of the city through BKK Tours which I could not recommend enough! It was about $70/person and was a full-day tour that included meals, transportation and admission into all sites we saw. But the biggest benefit for me was being able to relax and enjoy the day instead of dealing with the insanity that is Bangkok. We never got lost. We never argued with a taxi driver {though that did happen several other times}. We never had to decide what to do next or where to eat. For a Type A person like myself that always tries to have everything planned, it was absolutely amazing being able to hand over the reins and just enjoy.

Our tour guide, Air, picked us up at the hotel around 9AM. We hopped on the Skytrain and headed to the Chao Phraya River, where a private longtail boat was waiting for us. We rode down the river with about an hour detour through a canal which was absolutely fascinating.  It gave us the opportunity to see how real people live in Bangkok and allowed us to stop at a few off the beaten path markets and food stalls. Afterwards it was on to the Grand Palace, Wat Phra Kaew {Emerald Buddha} and Wat Pho {Reclining Buddha}. We spent about three hours in total exploring these beautiful places and were able to learn about the history and significance thanks to our knowledgeable and incredibly sweet guide. 

NOTE: The Grand Palace asks that all visitors, as a sign of respect cover, their arms and legs. I thought, like the cathedrals of Europe, that a shawl would suffice to cover my arms - but you are not allowed to enter unless you are wearing actual sleeves. So if, like me, you choose to wear a tank top to try to stay cool in blisteringly hot Bangkok, you will be forced to rent a questionably clean and unquestionably unfashionable oversize shirt to wear over your clothes. I'd highly recommend wearing short-sleeves and either long pants or a maxi skirt to avoid being the fashion faux pas that I was all morning :)

By the time we had finished visiting the temples and palace we were famished. Air took us to one of her favorite local restaurants on the river, which to be honest we would have never chosen ourselves, but it was absolutely delicious! She ordered nearly a dozen different dishes for us to sample, plus plenty of Singha beers for the boys and coconuts for Sara and I. Feeling reinvigorated, we hopped on the back of a tuk tuk {SO FUN!} and went to our next stop - the beautiful flower market. While we didn't buy any flowers {we were only going to be in Bangkok for one more day}, we were able to purchase some spices for a great value; our most exciting find being a bag of saffron, the world's most expensive spice, for less than three USD.

By that point we were all quite tired so we decided to return to our hotel for an evening swim and to get ready for dinner. We chose to eat at Nahm, which was just voted the best restaurant in Asia and one of the world's 50 best restaurants. The ambiance was chic and our poolside table set the scene for an absolutely perfect meal. The food, led by chef David Thompson - the first chef to even be awarded a Michelin star for Thai cuisine, was sophisticated but approachable. We started with several canap├ęs, our favorite being the grilled mussels, then went onto share several entrees including scallops stir-fried with spring onions & chillies and coconut and turmeric curry of blue swimmer crab with calamansi lime {YUM!} The only dish that left us a bit perplexed was our coconut ash pudding with poached bananas, which just didn't please our American palates. 

Our last day in Bangkok we took a day trip to go waterfall trekking and visit an Elephant Rescue Sanctuary, but more on that later :)