How To Spend A Day in Bangkok

“Behind a bend… the entire town of Bangkok appeared in sight. I do not believe that there is a sight in the world more magnificent or more striking; this Asiatic Venice…”

Ludovic Marquis de Beauvoir

As the capital city of Thailand, Bangkok is one swarming, electrified, confused hub. No matter where you are, there’s always something going on, and it can be difficult to know what to do if you only have 24 hours in this introduction to Southeast Asia that has been described as an “attack on the senses”.

10am

Embrace Heights

Bangkok isn’t a city that has an iconic skyline like Paris or New York, but that’s not to say it’s not worth the climb. If you’re especially motivated (unlike me), then I would recommend setting your alarm for 6am to catch a breathtaking Thai sunrise. Or, alternatively, if you’re like me and jet-lagged out of your mind, sunset does the trick as well 👌

11am

Practice Your Bartering Skills

Make like the tourists and catch a tuk-tuk to weave through the zig-zagging streets of Bangkok. Although the tuk-tuks here aren’t as crazy as they are in Cambodia, it’s nevertheless an experience you won’t forget in a hurry.

There isn’t a set price for a tuk-tuk ride, and you will be expected to barter with the operator to determine a price. As someone who hates being assertive with a passion, I had been dreading this ever since I set foot off the plane. For the most part it went without a hitch, but I’m not going to lie; being a young and unaccompanied white woman in the middle of Bangkok definitely draws attention to yourself, and there were many times tuk-tuk operators tried to take advantage of me. When I rejected the exceedingly high price one requested, he gestured towards my wallet and made a rude comment about me being a rich white tourist. I tried to explain to him that I don’t just carry around wads of cash in my pocket, but it was no use. In times like those, you just have to walk away and trust in the fact that there is always going to be someone else just down the road who will take you where you want to go without trying to scam you of all your money.

3pm

Recline with the Buddha

There’s countless places you can wile away hours of your time in Bangkok, but if you’re looking for somewhere cultural, I would highly recommend paying a visit to Wat Pho. Located by the river in the Old City, Wat Pho – or Temple of the Reclining Buddha – used to be the first public university in Thailand with specialities in religion, science and literature.

As it’s name suggests, Wat Pho features the gold-plated reclining Buddha that measures a whopping 15 metres tall and 46 metres long. 46 metres! I’ll just let that sink in for a moment. Also be sure to wear clothes that cover your shoulders and knees; it is a sign of respect in Thailand not to expose skin in these areas whilst in sacred places.

8pm

Explore the Asiatique

Just a nifty ten-minute (and free!) boat ride down the river from Saphan Taksin BTS station lies the Asiatique. This riverfront bazaar is the ultimate night fusion market. There are more restaurants and shops than you can count, with different live performances on offer to entertain you every night. If you’re looking for some retail therapy, then you’ve come to the right place; with over 1,500 boutiques selling everything you can imagine – and for prices that seem too good to be true – you’ll be shopped out before long. Even if you’re not the biggest spender, it’s certainly an experience to simply meander through the warehouse and take in all the sights.

Don’t forget to buy a ticket for the ferris wheel to see some stunning views of Bangkok lit up at night, and if you’re looking for something a little bit quirky, why not book in a session at the fish spa? Wallow in a small tank whilst flesh-eating fish nibble at your toes for an eccentric Thai experience. If your excuse not to do this is that you’re too ticklish, then don’t worry – if I can stick it out for 15 minutes, then so can you!

11pm

Expand Your Palate

If an evening at the Asiatique hasn’t exhausted you, then finish off your day by dropping by some street food stalls on the way home. After all, who doesn’t a love a sneaky midnight snack? Thai street food is dotted all over Bangkok, and vendors operate well into the night. I’ve had some of the most succulent fresh fruit I’ve ever from these stalls, including fruit with names I can’t even pronounce.

If you’re feeling adventurous (or still adrenalised from the fish spa), then this is the best place to expand your palate and try some bugs. Yes, you heard me right: bugs. Grasshoppers, beetles, worms, crickets… you name it. Oh, and don’t worry – they’re seasoned.

If all this talk about eating bugs has whet your appetite, then don’t forget to check out 5 Foods That Will Make You Go WTF (And 5 Foods That Won’t). Also, feel free to give my Thailand Vlog a watch if you need some more convincing on how incredible this city is.

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5 Foods That Will Make You Go WTF (and 5 Foods That Wont)

Oh, Thailand.

One of the highlights of traveling to a faraway and exotic country is having the opportunity to try weird and wonderful foods. In France, that may be escargots. In South America, that may be roast guinea pig. In Thailand… well, let’s just say you’ve come to the right place to find out.

1

Insects

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Traveling to Southeast Asia as a vegetarian, the last thing I expected myself to do was eat a bug. But, as it would stand, I am not very good at being vegetarian.

Feeling a little bit like a contestant off Fear Factor, I decided to expand my palate on the very first night of the trip by having a nibble of a grasshopper. In Thailand, insects are fried in a wok, seasoned with chilli, salt and pepper, and enjoyed as snacks. Whilst I cast my doubts on the Thai people’s relationship with the word ‘enjoyed’, I will admit that it wasn’t the absolute worst thing I have ever eaten. Did it taste like bitter, burnt popcorn? Maybe. Did it require me to run to the kitchen and spit out the remnants immediately afterwards? Maybe. But rest assured, it looks more gross than it actually is.

2

Fried Chicken Heads

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When I passed these at the market, I actually had to do a double take. I’d heard of chicken feet being a delicacy, but chicken heads? I felt a little sick just looking at them.

Whilst our tour guide informed us that these are mostly used for the purposes of pet food, that doesn’t stop people (including a few questionably brave tourists) from indulging themselves. Apparently (because, y’know, there was no way I was trying these in a hurry) they consist almost entirely of bones and gristle with a little bit of fat in the neck. If these little guys whet your appetite, don’t forget to crack the head so that you don’t miss out on the “unique buttery flavour” of the brain.

I think I’ll pass.

3

Whole Fish

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Arguably this isn’t as crazy as the other foods listed, but hailing from somewhere like New Zealand, it’s still a shock to see an entire fish for sale – head and all – as opposed to cuts of meat.

What really took me aback was the price. One of these fish were worth 30 baht (the Thai currency) which is roughly equivalent to USD$0.80!

4

Fried Worms

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Poppy enjoying her fried worms.

Mmm.

Fried bamboo worms are a Thai treat that you will most likely find in the North.

My friend Poppy and I brought a small bag of ‘lesser’ worms (because apparently you have high and low quality fried worms… who would’ve known?), and I plucked up the courage to try one.

In all honesty, I preferred the grasshopper. These little rascals tasted like gravel with a vaguely peanut-esque aftertaste. “Just like popcorn!” our guide grinned.

Yeah right.

5

Whole Fish 2.0

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If you thought I was done with the fish, then you were wrong.

I have no idea what kind of fish this was, but I’m sure it was an ugly mother******. This entire fish – teeth and all – was placed on the table in front of us, complete with chopsticks and dipping sauce. Had I not been vegetarian, I don’t think I could have even eaten anything, what with it staring back at you. If you fancy watching Poppy’s ethical dilemma, check out our travel vlog.

1

Ice Cream

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The first thing I decided when I arrived in Thailand was that I would have put on 5kg worth of dessert by the time I returned home. How can you not when you’re constantly walking past places like this?!

Aside from the miscellany of ice cream flavours, the toppings alone are to die for. Toasted marshmallow? Buttered popcorn? Oreo crush? Froot loops? You name it – they’ve got it.

2

Street Food

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You cannot travel to Thailand and not try the street food. Aside from the fact that it’s so insanely cheap, it also tastes infinitely better than anything you would ever buy out of a package. Plus, you’ll find yourself eyeing up foods you never even knew existed.

Durian? I have no idea what that is, but I’ll take three.

3

Watermelon Juice

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You got me; this isn’t a photo of watermelon juice. But it is a photo of fresh watermelon (and some sneaky papayas) at a local Thai market, which I think we can all agree is far more photogenic than juice in a cup.

Watermelon is one of my favourite fruits, and the only thing better than fruit is liquid fruit. The beauty of watermelon juice in Thailand is that – like everything – it is so much cheaper than the same product would cost back home (or even in neighbouring countries, for that matter). An average watermelon juice in Thailand might cost around USD$0.60. To put that into perspective, when I ordered one during my stopover in Singapore on the way home, I was charged USD$5.60. Case in point.

4

Gelato

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I tend to think of Italy when I think of gelato, but that doesn’t mean the Thai don’t know how to do their frozen desserts.

I became obsessed with matcha green tea gelato during my stay. The taste is ultra refreshing and perfect for a snack on the go during a hot, sticky day tour in the sun. One of those crispy waffle cones don’t go amiss, either.

5

Dragonfruit

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I think the name of this fruit alone is enough to warrant a mention.

If you don’t think you’re familiar with these, then you might be able to jog your memory by scrolling through any Instagram tag along the lines of #smoothiebowl or #nalubowl. Dragonfruit are white on the inside with distinctive black seeds dotted throughout them. They taste somewhat like a less tangy kiwifruit, and are popular for their gorgeous colours.

What weird and wonderful foods have you encountered on your overseas travels? Comment below – I’d love to hear about your experience!

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Everything You Need to Know About Getting a Tattoo in Thailand

If you had asked ten year old me if I were likely to ever get a tattoo, I would have given a squeaky, pre-pubescent laugh. Me? The goody-two-shoes kid who always checks twice before she crosses the road? Not fudging likely. But as you will know, young adulthood always turns up late to the party with a plus one of experimentation, and why not explore your new identity with getting a tattoo that you will be stuck with for the rest of your life? That’s the exact opposite of a recipe for disaster, if you ask me.

Nine years later and — much to my parent’s disgrace — I have initiated a tradition of acquiring a tattoo in every new place I travel to. I have homage to New Zealand, the United States and Rarotonga permanently etched into my skin, and plans for many more. I have so many ideas and opinions about tattoos that I would love to share, but they alone warrant their own post. For now, I am going to share my experience of adding to the collection with a Thailand tat.

So there we were; me — the veteran with my measly three tattoos — and my ink virgin friend Poppy, roaming the sleazy and drunken streets of Pattaya for a semi-reputable tattoo parlour. Just that sentence in and of itself is a parent’s worst nightmare. We had investigated maybe seven or eight studios before settling on one that looked to offer a sanitised and satisfactory experience.

And so I present to you: Eve Tattoo Studios.

I’m not going to lie; I was drawn to my tattooist Jim because of his devilish good looks. Very professional of me, I know. The other factor that ticked the box for me was that he looked to be of European descent. This stemmed purely from the fact that I was searching for someone who would speak English well, and that I would be able to communicate with throughout the process. In light of the fact that we were tattoo-hunting in Southeast Asia, this was quite the priority in my books. I consider the Thai artists to be very talented and innovative, however when you are getting work permanently inked into your skin, you need to be on the same level of understanding. A language barrier is the first step to painful and expensive regret.

Having not really committed to any particular design yet, I opted for a spontaneous rendition of my favourite piece of artwork: The Great Wave off Kanagawa, a woodblock print by artist Katsushika Hokusai. And yes, incase you feel the pressing urge to remind me, I am very much aware that I got a Japanese-style tattoo to honour Thailand. Don’t question my motives. Meanwhile, Poppy stuck to her guns and settled on an intricate dragon fly that she’d had her eye on ever since I had thrown the idea of her also getting a tattoo into the mix.

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The Great Wave off Kanagawa by Katsushika Hokusai

If you have never gotten a tattoo before, then I’m sure you probably have a lot of questions. I was exactly the same. Whether it hurts or not tends to be the most pressing, and I’m not going to lie; it hurts like a bitch. In saying that though, I am a complete and utter wuss. I cry when I have to get a blood test, and I have avoided piercing my ears for fear of inexplicable agony (*cue derisive laughter*). Yet somehow, I manage to drag myself into that chair time and time again.

The best way I can describe the sensation of the needle upon your skin is by likening it to that of a prolonged cat scratch. What’s more, the beauty of tattoos — as opposed to piercings, as I have been told — is that as soon as the artist removes the gun, the pain vanishes (at least, in my experience that has been the case). Sure, you get some itching and irritation during the healing process, but you will not have to endure months and months of tenderness or rawness in the aftermath. The pain itself is a very concise and fleeting sensation.

Things to be Mindful of when Tattoo-Hunting in Thailand

Avoid Language Barriers

If you cannot clearly communicate what you would like done, then maybe it is time to consider another studio. There are so many important things to discuss — whether that be finalising a design, settling on a price, answering any burning questions or detailing the healing process — that crossing your fingers and hoping ambiguous hand gestures will do the trick just isn’t good enough. If you are prepared to walk away with a tattoo you are not happy to have on your body forever — with no idea how to look after it — then by all means, ignore this tip. But if you want the process to be smooth sailing and stress-free, then this should be at the top of your checklist.

Do Not Use a ‘Cheap Bargain’ as the Dictator of Where You Get Your Tattoo Done

As is the general rule of thumb with most goods and services, a higher price is indicative of higher quality. Tattoos are no exception. In a place such as Southeast Asia where bartering is the norm, quality can be harder to gauge as artists are always trying to beat the previous price. We ended up going with Eve Tattoo Studios, who provided the most expensive quote.

Cleanliness

There’s a reason for all the jokes around HIV and AIDS when telling friends you’re getting a tattoo in Thailand. Okay, maybe that is reserved for the worst case scenario, but there are still plenty of consequences to reap from short-cutting the process. You need to make sure the studio is sanitised and clean. A professional artist may tell you that they are using a new needle straight out of the packet, and some — such as Jim — will even show you as they open it for peace of mind. This tip is more common sense than anything, but as someone who understands the feeling of getting caught up in the excitement and adrenaline of a new tattoo, it is not difficult for the basics to get brushed to the back of your mind.

Do Your Research!

Can we please take a moment to appreciate the magic of Tripadvisor? You wouldn’t send your child to a new school without looking into the quality of both the institution and the employees. Okay, strange analogy, but you get the gist. Another thing I strongly recommend doing before committing to a studio, is asking to view work done by the tattooist that is similar to what you are looking at getting done. I have found that this is especially relevant to conventionally feminine designs, as studios are more likely to advertise their big, colourful pieces that accumulate hours and hours of work, and tens of thousands of dollars. It is one thing for an artist to be adept at these styles, but if you are more interested in minimalist pieces, it definitely pays to ask to see their personal experience with these.

Find the Balance Between Assertion and Flexibility

I learnt the hard way that it is unfeasible to waltz into a tattoo parlour lacking the mindset to adapt your design according to the artist’s recommendations. You need to remember that your artist has your interests at heart, and is just trying to negotiate a compromise on a design and placement that will both suit your tastes and look good at the same time. In saying that, if they suggest a final design that you do not like, you need to make it clear that you are not happy with it. As a naturally passive person, it took a number of goes for me to muster the confidence to tell my tattooist that I didn’t like what they were suggesting, but that I was willing to explore other options.

Choose Your Timing Wisely

This is especially applicable to traveling. The healing process of a tattoo is not long and complicated, but there are a handful of things you need to abide by for your designated time period. One of these is that you must avoid swimming and sun exposure. As you can imagine, this can prove a hassle if you are traveling to a tropical destination where lounging on a sun-drenched beach is one of the selling-points (ahem Thailand). If this is the case, you might want to book your tattoo in for the end of your trip. Otherwise, it’s hello layers.

Cultural Appropriation

If you have culturally-orientated ink lined up in your sights, you may want to double check what is appropriate and what is not. In Thailand, it is considered disrespectful to have the Buddha tattooed onto you. Whilst this may not appear to be such a pressing issue once you are on the flight home, I firmly believe that respect and courtesy to the customs and values of your host country are of the upmost importance.

So there you have it; my tips and tricks for getting a tattoo in Thailand. And if you ever feel like making a spontaneous and permanent decision in the southern town of Pattaya, I highly recommend you pay Jim and the rest of the team at Eve Tattoo Studios a call.

The ‘Deats

Name: Eve Tattoo Studios

Location: Pattaya, Thailand

Number: +66 87 130 1808

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Enjoying my fresh ink at Ha Long Bay

Have your own crazy tattoo experiences or advice to share? Comment below! I would love to hear all of your stories!

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Vlog: Thailand Edition

I wish I had the luxury to say, ‘you may have noticed that I have been absent from posting for the past month or so’ like most bloggers, but that would have required me to make regular updates in the first place. As this is only my third post, I’m going to let that slide, but worry not! My goal is to create new content every MONDAY, WEDNESDAY and FRIDAY! Now, let’s see how long that lasts for…

One of the perks of having my own blog is that I have complete creative freedom over what I create and produce. For me, this means that I am not limited to sharing my experiences in just one format. So I have decided to experiment with my cinematic side, and have put together a vlog (or ‘video log’ for the less informed – looking at you, mother) to document my adventures in Thailand this past November.

Without further ado, please enjoy my Thailand vlog! And feel free to stop by my new Youtube Channel and give it a cheeky subscribe (and a thumbs up if you’re feeling extra spicy).

Comment with your own Youtube channel and/or videos – I’d love to check them out!

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The Reality of Elephant Riding in Thailand

You can’t travel to Thailand and not ride an elephant.

Or can you?

I try to live an ethical life. I only eat vegetarian so as not to support the meat industry. I avoid buying cosmetics that have been tested on animals in a laboratory. I make a conscious effort to educate myself on global issues from a variety of sources so that I can make informed choices on things that matter. So you’d think that I would be able to resist my temptations to visit an elephant park on my trip to Thailand, right?

Wrong.

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Just why are elephant parks unethical?

There are a number of reasons. For starters, despite claims that the elephants are ‘rescued’ from the wild, this is not always the case. Many elephants are captured as young calfs, and tortured into submission. This process is referred to as ‘Phajaan’, which roughly translates to ‘Elephant Crushing’.

Furthermore, even if they were rescued, that does not mean to say that the park has bettered their situation. As Brendan van Son of Brendan’s Adventures put it: “… these animals are being exploited for the financial wellbeing of the company that rescued them.”

Many riding experiences also include mounting a howdah onto the back of the elephants for tourists to sit on. These platforms have been known to rub against their skin and cause blistering and pain. Despite their enormous size, the weight of these platforms can also be problematic and lead to permanent spinal injuries.

It is also impossible to provide the equivalent conditions for elephants in captivity as they would experience in the wild. Elephants have evolved to survive – and thrive – in an environment that parks just cannot recreate. This can lead to premature death, disease and an overall diminished quality of life.

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I know what you’re thinking: You’re a massive hypocrite, Dani! You participated and reaped the rewards of elephant tourism, and yet here you are, bad-mouthing the industry. Sort your shit out!

I know, I know. I’m the first person to admit that there are so many appeals to elephant riding. It’s sensational to get up and close with creatures that have previously only existed in films or in enclosures at the zoo. Especially coming from a country where elephants are not indigenous (*cough New Zealand cough*), this is an undoubtedly thrilling experience.

Secondly, there is an element of control that goes hand and hand with being taught how to ride an elephant. These beings are the largest land mammals on earth. Riding them is nothing less than a humbling experience.

Thirdly, it can sometimes be hard to imagine traveling to destinations such as Thailand without ticking elephant riding off your bucket list. They’re a cultural icon of Southeast Asia, and boycotting the experience is far more than a missed photo opportunity.

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The elephant park I visited in Chiang Mai, Thailand was called Baanchang Elephant Park. We learnt how to look after, feed, ride and bathe the elephants, all of which were experiences I thoroughly enjoyed.

They didn’t use howdahs, but rather invited you to ride on their backs with nothing but a loose rope knotted around the elephant’s neck and girth for stability. I have researched this, and the evidence shows that this is not nearly as harmful to the elephant as are howdahs (for more on this matter, see below). While in hindsight I would not do this again, if you are hell-bent on getting on the back of an elephant in some way or another, then this is the way to go.

I did not witness any examples of unnecessary brute force being inflicted upon the elephants at any point during my stay, even when the elephant I was riding decided to veer off the track and go walkabouts through the bush. It was lightly guided back to the group where we peacefully carried on without any fuss.

I do not have complete and unwavering knowledge of how ethical Baanchang Elephant Park is, but from my experience and research, they seemed to tick a lot of the boxes. If you are considering visiting Baanchang on a future trip to Thailand, I suggest you peruse their website to fully understand the nature of their company and their dedication to giving elephants the highest quality of life possible within a domesticated environment.

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I am not against all elephant parks. Just the unethical ones. If you are firmly planted in your plan to visit a park, then I ask that you consider the following in mind…

  • Take your time when choosing a park to visit. If you are rushing to map out your itinerary and don’t allow yourself to carefully research what each park offers, then you are far more likely to risk supporting the dark side of elephant tourism.
  • Ensure that the park only features elephants they have been rescued from abusive circumstances, and has an emphasis on educating tourists about caring for elephants as opposed to giving rides. Whilst I discussed that riding bare-back is better than riding with a howdah, refraining from riding at all is even better.
  • If you are like me and can’t keep your hands off souvenirs, check to make sure you are not purchasing ivory. Ivory’s monetary value is the primary reason elephants are poached in the wild. To put the gravity of this issue into perspective, it is believed that – since the 1900s – the Asian elephant population has halved. Halved. Let that sink in for a moment.

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The Asian elephant is now an endangered species. It is estimated that only 30,000 exist in the wild. While I do not condone parks that mistreat elephants, there are those that strive to rehabilitate and protect them from extinction. We may have to come to terms with the reality that these parks could be the saving grace for these animals, and I strongly believe that we should support them. You can find a list of ethical elephant sanctuaries to visit here.

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I would like to note that I am not an expert on the ethics of elephant parks. I am purely someone who is discussing a personal experience, has researched this issue and is passionate about the politics of animal cruelty.

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