If it wasn't for Travelers Joy, we might have never gone on our honeymoon at all.
Let me explain: Our honeymoon to Thailand was one of the first wedding plans we made. Thailand was at the top of our list. It was far enough away to take us out of our comfort zone, but inexpensive enough to stay for a few weeks. Plus we both love the food! We were to leave on our honeymoon around Christmas 2008, a few months after we got married. We had it organized with work, we got all our vacation days in a row, we registered on Traveler's Joy, the only thing left was to buy the plane tickets. But you know what they say about "best laid plans."
See, a month before our wedding on September 20, 2008, my husband John was laid off. One month after our wedding I was laid off. Welcome to the new economy! We were on an emotional roller-coaster. We felt strongly that we still wanted to go on our honeymoon; it was even more important to us now. We needed to see the world outside our own front door. We needed to see the bigger picture. Plus, many of our generous wedding guests donated wonderful gifts on Traveler's Joy. They gave us that gift specifically for our Thailand honeymoon and we wanted to honor their gifts.
So, thanks to Traveler's Joy and to our guests, to Thailand we went! On January 23, 2009 we endured a 24 hour trip from Chicago to Bangkok. We had a reservation for our first few nights at The Key Hotel near Siam Square. We didn't have any other reservations for the rest of the trip, deciding to play it by ear once we got there. The only things we had with us were the backpacks on our back and the fire in our bellies.
We landed in Bangkok at midnight, completely exhausted and a little out of sorts. Once we arrived at The Key we knew we were in good hands. The bell hop brought us cold towels to refresh our faces and orange juice to refresh our hearts. The woman at the front desk was kind and smiley and even gave us a room upgrade for free. I think she saw how tired we were.
The Key is a little boutique hotel off of busy Sukhimvit Road. Our room was charming and clean and it was a wonderful, quiet place to sleep off our jet lag. It was also convenient, just steps away from the Skytrain and subway. We spent the next few days getting back on our feet and wandering the streets of Bangkok. We would walk for miles, exploring all the alleyways and "sois" where some of the best restaurants and treasures could be found. One night on a particularly long walk, we wandered off the loud main street of Sukhimvit and discovered a back alleyway filled with candle-lit restaurants and quiet pubs. We had a great meal at an English pub called the Pickled Liver and listened to expats talk about the beauty of Thailand. The next morning we woke early to go to the floating market in Damnoan Sadoak, about an hour outside of Bangkok. We got a guide and a boat and floated through the market, periodically stopping to buy fruit and trinkets from the Thai women who were cooking breakfast in boats of their own!
We spent much of those first few days getting used to the smell of spices, incense and fish. Lucky for us, we had arrived in Bangkok for Chinese New Year. When we went to the backpacker's street, Khao San Road, we saw a multitude of Chinese Dragons, elephants, music and celebration. Khao San road was full of travelers from all around the country, the energy of it is contagious. There were so many restaurants and bars, we could never try them all in the short time we were there. We both loved Bangkok, but after a few days of city life, we knew it was time to head to the beach.
Ko Chang is the closest island to Bangkok, so if you only have a few days, it's a great choice if you want to get away from city life. We took a four hour bus ride and a half-hour ferry to Ko Chang, a dense, mountainous rainforest filled with monkeys and elephants. We took a curvy, stomach-churning ride in a truck up the mountain and down the other side until we got to a small beach town called Lonely Beach. Lonely Beach consists of about ten restaurants and bars, sandy streets and an internet cafe or two. We found a wonderful bungalow at Bai Lin Bay Resort. We were nestled in a tree house on the side of a mountain with practically the whole beach to ourselves. The women who ran this place were like second mothers, teaching us Thai, giving us advice and making John the most authentic Tom Yum soup he had on the whole trip.
I like to think we healed at Bai Lin Bay, we got back to sleeping normally, we started eating all the wonderful fruit and we swam in the ocean at dawn. We were sad to leave Lonely Beach after four days, but our adventure was to continue, so back to Bangkok we went.
This time back we stayed closer to Khao San Road at a great little hotel we found on the internet called The Bhiman Inn. The Bhiman was close to the nightlife of Khao San Road but not directly on it. It's a quiet, romantic hotel with a pool, oh so welcome on those hot Bangkok afternoons. One hot morning, we walked about a mile to the Grand Palace. The Grand Palace used to be the residence of the kings of Thailand. It contains Wat Phra Kaew, the home of the Emerald Buddha, a Buddha created in 43BC. We wandered for hours, taking in the beautiful sights of that peaceful place. We shopped at the Amulet Market nearby and had our first ever mangosteen, the most wonderful fruit on earth.
Soon it was time to leave Bangkok again and head north to the mountains of Chiang Mai. We took an overnight sleeper car for the fifteen hour train ride. It was a wonderful way to see the countryside of Thailand, the green of the rice paddies and the small, sleepy towns. Although maybe "sleeper car" was a bit of a misnomer, as neither of us slept one wink.
We gathered our strength once we got to Chiang Mai. Many Thai call it the "jewel of the north" and it is a charming city with a lot of civic pride. The Thai would constantly stop us on the street and tell us of the many things we should see. Also, the food in Chiang Mai is fabulous and a lot less expensive than either Bangkok or Lonely Beach.
We stayed at another small hotel called the Montrara Guesthouse right off of the city square. It was clean and quiet and they were so welcoming. We had planned our trip to Chiang Mai around the annual flower festival. On Saturday morning we got up bright and early to make sure we had a good place for the flower festival parade. The floats were filled with flowers and elephants and the Thai loved it as much as we did. After the parade was over there was Thai music and dancing in the city square. Later that night we headed to the famous Night Market and sauntered up and down the frenetic streets, shopping and bartering for Thai goodies. We also went to the Maesa Elephant Camp and watched the elephants bathe and eat bananas fed to them by excited tourists.
We headed back to Bangkok for one more night before our trip home. We wandered the streets one last time, smelling every smell, seeing every sight, doing our best to remember every detail.
The total for both of us for three weeks in the Land of Smiles was about $5,000. We spent $2,300 for the plane tickets and once we got to Thailand we spent about $1,500 on hotels, food and presents for our friends and family at home. We would definitely recommend Thailand for a honeymoon destination. The Thai people are helpful and kind and always ready with a smile, the food is to die for and the warm weather melted our wintry hearts. We will never forget the excitement of Bangkok, the peace of Lonely Beach and the beauty and art of Chiang Mai. And to think, without Traveler's Joy we may have never taken our honeymoon at all.