I remember when I was little being obsessed with movies like 'The Goonies' and 'Honey I shrunk the kids.' I guess I always figured it was my destiny to go on some sort of crazy adventure like the kids in those films.
I arrived hungry... yes for Pad Thai (obviously), but more so for adventure. I wanted to experience the variety and diversity of Thailand and plunge whole heartedly into what this beautiful country had to offer.
In just eight days I made friends that will remain in my life forever and experienced moments I will never forget. Zip lining through the jungle, swimming underneath waterfalls and feeding rescued elephants – you name it, we did it. Each and every day was packed full of adventures and places to explore and whether foodie or fitness fanatic, this trip ticked every box (and even some I didn’t know needed ticking).
Types of adventure? Cultural, reflective, party
Thailand’s vibrant capital is home to bustling street life and ornate temples. Catching a boat along the Chao Praya River, we fed the nearby cat fish with left-over bread rolls from breakfast whilst en route to the Wat Arun temple where we admired the beautiful detail and witnessed monks in prayer. A surreal moment as we walked around one of the most visited destinations in Bangkok, taking in the sheer beauty of the temple.
Bangkok, also famed for its nightlife, did not disappoint. Going for our first night dinner with my new Contiki family we were bombarded by the noise, sounds and smells of the manic and magical Khao San road. Bars, markets stalls, DJ's and ping pong shows. If you're in the mood for a party - this is the place.
Types of adventure? Historical, tropical, playful
A provincial town steeped in history. We visited the World War II cemetery along with the Death Railway Museum to learn more about the history of the Burma Railway and the Prisoners of war who built it – a truly sobering experience.
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Jumping aboard jungle river rafts we then headed to our hotel - the River Kwai Jungle Rafts Resort. An eco friendly (no power) hotel perfect for a digital detox and chill. Jumping from one end of the hotel and floating along the river to the other end became a favourite activity among the group, along with visiting the nearby Mon village, a remote village made up of only 25 families.
Finishing our time in Kanchanaburi, we trekked to the waterfalls in the beautiful Erawan National Park. Amongst natural springs and pools, we spent our day taking pictures and sliding down water slides that had formed amongst the rocks whilst the fish swam around our feet.
Types of adventure? Relaxing, insightful, unique
Arriving in Ayutthaya, we headed out for a bike ride tour around the historical ruins of the old city. Riding our way through the local villages, rice paddies and temples, there’s no better way of exploring, and I even managed to squeeze in a Thai massage whilst here. After being clicked, stretched and prodded into various positions I felt ready for our next destination. All aboard! Taking the over night train from Ayutthaya to Chiang Mai proved to be an unexpected highlight. Memories of school trips and summer camp were relived as we all climbed into our bunk beds, played card games and shared snacks during our 12-hour train ride.
Where? Chiang Mai
Types of adventure? Adrenalin, foodie, musical, animal based
Thailand’s northern capital made legendary by its famed night markets. We packed so many activities into our two nights here. First up, the Flight Of The Gibbons – a zip lining adventure through the jungle and one of my personal highlights, where we flew *look mum no hands* style among the trees and vines, screaming our names as we went.
Swiftly onto our cooking class, we learnt how to master some of Thailand’s most signature dishes (side note – my thai chicken soup was pretty damn good.) We all lined up and quite literally set the stoves on fire as we rustled up our dinner for the evening before watching a tropical storm over the surrounding fields.
The night markets of Chiang Mai was something I’d been looking forward to since the start of the trip. Stall upon stall, selling everything from leather goods, delicious food and traditional clothing, I spent hours haggling, buying gifts and pretty much completing my Christmas shopping list. Our first night in Chiang Mai ended with the famous Chiang Mai Cabaret Show, a show bursting with energy and humour.
But I think my favourite adventure of the entire trip was our visit to the Elephant Nature Park. A charity and sanctuary for elephants rescued from the riding, logging and entertainment industries, here they are left to roam wild whilst we walked alongside them, feeding them, washing them, and witness how caring the volunteers from the sanctuary are with them.
Types of adventure? Chilled, fitness, exhilarating
I survived 726 turns to Pai! Oh yes, it really is the long and winding road but the destination is totally worth it. The hippie centric town boasts markets selling hand made goods and laid back bars pumping out sounds of reggae music. It’s also home to the best vegan falafel wrap I have ever eaten!
Whilst there, we chilled by the pool at our guest house, visited Pai Canyon – another great spot for that must have Insta-shot – before finally heading into the village for a Muay Thai lesson – Thailand’s national sport. After stretching and going through all the basic moves of this combat/boxing sport we got into the ring three at a time to put our punches to practice. Two rounds later and completely exhausted we finished off by watching the professionals in a real Muay Thai fight.
I don’t think I really realised before visiting Thailand the sheer breadth of opportunity there is here for travellers like me, hungry for adventure but similarly inquisitive about things like culture and food, and I feel like I’ve come back richer from the experience, not to mention with a whole new Contiki family, one of whom I’ve already got another trip in the pipeline with.
Thailand, you fed my hunger for adventure but there’s still room for a whole lot more…so where to next?
Kate Winney travelled on Contiki’s Northern Thai Highlights as part of The Travel Project. If you believe that travel has helped you become a better person, or you have discovered something revelatory about yourself whilst on the road, we want to hear from you. Head to www.contiki.com/thetravelproject to see how you can get involved, and maybe even travel on your own Travel Project mission with Contiki.