Sometimes I wish the Western World had never discovered the stunningly beautiful beaches of Southern Thailand. When I make the trek there, I feel like I’m leaving the Thailand I know and entering some kind of forgotten universe of my past. Sometimes though, it’s nice to go back and stomp around the old grounds, and hey, the view is nothing to sneeze at either.
Being a beach person, I knew that my first long vacation that I took in Thailand was going to be to the crystal clear ocean views that this country is known for. And then I got a better offer. My friend in Chiang Mai teaches at a fancy-smancy international school and as if that isn’t cool enough, one of her student’s father offered to host a few of the teachers and friends at the resort he owns in Surat Thani. New philosophy: just say yes, ask questions later.
Elephant Hills is known as Thailand’s first luxury tent resort. Located near the phenomenal Khao Sok National Park (where there is the most rainforest in Thailand), the scenery surrounding you is stunning. Everything is taken care of for guests from activities/a planned program, guides speaking fantastic English, transportation to and from everywhere, and I’m fairly certain the ‘tents’ were nicer than my room at site (well, cleaner anyway, and less bugs too).
We stayed for three nights, four days and our ‘special’ program had us busy. The guides were used to the kind of high-paying guests this place normally attracts so it took a little easing on both sides. For example, they told us not to worry, they had boatmen to canoe us down the river. My friend tried it for a while and as much as we enjoyed the zig-zag track and going through branches, I think that was when we decided to let the professionals take over. The ‘elephant experience’ was my favorite thing because we got to feed, wash, and interact with elephants with our own hands. I had never touched an elephant before this. It was awesome.
There was lots of kayaking, a jungle trek, a Burmese ‘junk’ boat ride, and Mangrove forest speed boat exploration (I’m not making this stuff up). We even spent a night on this amazingly clear reservoir in the floating luxury tents. Each tent had its own solar panel to power it, the only thing keeping us from drifting away were some anchors and ropes to land. I really enjoyed our time there as well because of how peaceful it was. We were the only guests there for that night and besides the tents, it’s just jungle. At night, without any other lights, the stars were absolutely phenomenal. We heard monkeys and gibbons, saw snakes hanging out in trees, and best of all, the bugs stayed out of my crisp white sheet bed (heaven). Well, that and we could jump off our deck right into the water from our tent. As the brochure says, ‘Your soul will be reawakened.’
I’m not sure what it all would cost if we tried to do it on our own, I was just so glad I got the opportunity to see not only such a stunning place, but one that does good too. Elephant Hills helps to support local schools and even built a library at one of them. The only thing they asked from us was to donate Thai books to add to the beautiful building. The Chiang Mai guys took care of this, but when the resort owner asked for people to volunteer at one of these schools, I’m thinking it would be nice to get into something like this, though it might have to wait until after I’m done with Peace Corps because of the scheduling of the school system.
Rested and relaxed in Surat, it was time for us to go to the island hopping. Leaving the other teachers/friends, Kailyn and I headed off to the famous Phi Phi paradise. Though it’s still technically rainy season (and therefore ‘low’ tourist time), tons of young people made it out to this Hollywood movie-worthy background. Climbing up to a lookout and wanting some adventure, we got totally lost and went up and down a mountain or two, but were rewarded with a totally different part of the island that most farangs end up. You know, like where the Thai people live. We further employed our new ‘yes’ mantra and had our first party night out in a long time for both of us (seriously, being a teacher is exhausting what ever kind of school you’re in, I wish I had given my HS teachers a lot more respect now that I’m on the other end of it). There’s more to be said about the vibe of the area, but I want to save it for an upcoming post about the tourist side of Thailand versus where Volunteers live. I’ll leave you with photos to make up for it.
To top off what was already a grand time, I was reunited with my Volunteer friends and let me tell you, it felt so good. My beloved Rai Ley was waiting for me and I got to see another side of it than the climbers paradise that I experienced with RF. We ate, chatted, ate, kayaked, ate, chatted some more, snorkeled (my first time ever!), and yes, ate some more. We even had ‘our place’ we frequented and didn’t get tired of hearing the same acoustic guitar man every night. There may have been some dancing, no I didn’t partake this round. Unfortunately, Thai men don’t really know how to put Lady Gaga to acoustic yet, but once they do, you’ll know where to find me.
Outside of catching up with other Volunteers, my favorite part was snorkeling. How have I not done this before? I felt like I was trespassing in this underwater world where all you can hear is nothing but your own inhale-exhale pattern (which I forgot to do sometimes) and just the creatures to keep you company (unless the long tail boat runs you over). I truly loved it and gained a much vaster appreciation for the aquarium, though this was way cooler. Apparently Rai Ley isn’t that great of an area for snorkeling, but I was keeping myself entertained with the ‘small’ amount of fish I saw (the other guys had gone somewhere else seeing hundreds in one glance) and watching my feet create mini-earthquakes in the sand as they touched down. Yes, I had to tell myself to stop smiling in my mask because it let water in. Total count: at least 100 fish, one sting ray, four crabs, and one nasty looking, spiky sea urchin. Note to self, buy snorkel mask immediately.
As awesome as it was to be sitting in a beach paradise in my bikini in the middle of October, this vacation didn’t totally cure me out of the down I’ve been going through. I still have very little patience with my (now) eleven year old host sister (seriously Mom, if I was like this when I was her age, I really need to upgrade on the Mother’s Day presents for not murdering me, thanks for that) and get frustrated when Thais expect me to be them. I do definitely feel much more motivated about school/PC things and have a time and then mapping unit planned for my older kids, maybe I should get going on that whole lesson planning thing. I’ll always be making a clip video too, that’s on the list, which is starting to loom. And for all the gorgeous scenery, I was really glad to come back home. Every time I plan a trip, I count down until I jetpack my way out of the village, but every time I leave, I can’t wait to get back. I don’t know how I’m ever going to make it permanent.