It's my birthday & I'll Pai if I want to

8:36 PM

am on a boat floating down the Mekong River on a 3 day journey from Thailand to Laos. Laos is our final country we will be backpacking and in 6 days, I'll start the journey by myself to Chiang Rai. I'm longing for a home base and excited to unpack (at least for a few months). So much has happened these past 2 weeks in Thailand so I'll try to condense and summarize as much as I can. 

Here has been our route in Thailand: 

Phuket --->Koh Phangan--->Koh Tao--->Koh Samui ---> Suran Thani--> Bangkok ---> Chiang Mai ---> Pai

We spent our first week in the South of Thailand, enjoying the brilliant beaches, snorkeling, kayaking, and getting way too much sun. As my skin gets darker, I find it harder to convince people that I'm actually American. 

The Highlights: 
Nangyuan Island 

we took a taxi boat over to Nangyuan island, a small island off of Koh Tao. We climbed (barefoot, but not recommended) up to the top. The view was worth it though.

Angthong National Park

Off of Koh Samui are a string of islands protected by a national park. The fish here were bright and the water was vividly clear, making for an incredible snorkeling trip. We got in some good kayaking as well.  

Praise Report: I mentioned a few weeks ago that my backpack strap broke from an airport conveyor belt. You can only imagine my relief when I stumbled upon a knock off North Face 75 L backpack at the market on Koh Tao. My back is forever grateful, my wallet isn't as happy. But with traveling, you just learn to roll with the punches.

Our week in the south of Thailand ended with us saying goodbye to our Rachel. Rachel was a perfect traveling companion, good at maps, and well versed on how to make the most of Asia. It was hard to watch her go. (If the trifecta loses a member, what does that make us?! hope you're loving accounting life, Rach. We miss you). 

For Rachel's last night, we headed to the big city of Bangkok. Our original plan for the night was to celebrate a good 5 weeks of traveling by visiting a fancy rooftop bar (the one from The Hangover II). Instead we ended up drenched in the nicest clothes that we brought, in the underground metro station. There wasn't much to do but laugh at our humorous interruption (and take a mirror selfie).

Bangkok, after a week on the beach, was a bit of culture shock. Upon arriving in Chinatown, we were warned by a man about recent gang activity where Vietnamese men would come and cut off women's purses. This was something we had heard before, but the threat mixed with the intense heat was enough to have us rethinking our inclination to head up north. 

On the bright side, Bangkok had incredibly easy transportation, from taxi boats to metros, and sky trains. Bangkok also had some of the most incredible temples I have seen thus far, complete with a massive reclining Buddha. 

While in Bangkok, we heard the news that a few days after we left Koh Tao island, that two tourists were murdered on the same beach we were staying at, leaving the island in a lock down. It pains me to think of the families that are currently dealing with the loss of their children and the people who might be scared to travel to the area from now on. One moment you feel young and bulletproof, the next you question how safe you really are out here. But knowing the risk, we continue, because our story isn't over yet. 

We took a breath of fresh air when we reached the peaceful city of Chiang Mai. Our hostel (Baan Kuhn hostel) is run by a friendly family who makes you feel like special guests in their home. We even came back for an extra night because we missed their hospitality, free breakfast & all you can eat bananas. I was able to meet up with an old friend from school, who showed us around Chiang Mai via motorbike. 

The Highlights:
I mentioned before that we visited an elephant sanctuary (Elephant Jungle Sanctuary). We ventured deep into the jungle where we were met by the gracious Khuran people. This family has rescued 3 elephants from the brutal elephant camps. Most elephant trekking camps in Thailand will tell you that they treat the elephants well, but the scars and cuts on their ears tell a different story. So if you ever find yourself in Thailand, ride bikes and tuk tuks, songtaews and motorcycles, but stay off of elephants. There are much more intimate ways to enjoy these creatures (like having a mud fight with them and washing them off in the waterfall). 

Red Chili Cooking School
If there is one thing I have consistently been passionate about since I was young; it is Thai food. So when given the opportunity to learn how to make these delicious Thai staples, I couldn't help but jump for joy. We spent 5 hours in the kitchen with our Thai guru, Aon. He taught us how to cook Pad Thai, Tom Yum Soup, Coconut Soup, red/green curry paste, and we ended with mango and sticky rice. I spent 30 minutes smashing herbs and spices to create curry paste. The next day, my arms were sore and I had a new respect for Thai women. Aon told us that it is very important for Thai men that their wife makes good curry. In America we have a saying, "happy wife, happy life", but in Thailand it's "good curry, good wife". I've got a long way to go. 

(We were able to create a natural dye  for our sticky rice by using some local plants. We were okay with the color selection...go Seahawks) 

Eagle Track Ziplining 
We spent a morning, zip trekking through the rainforest, ending in a massive drop to the bottom floor. My adrenaline chasing soul came alive. 

For my 23rd birthday, we headed to Pai, Thailand. Before going to Pai, it was explained to me as a "Swiss Family Robinson meets hippie commune" type place. For you southerners, I found it to be a hippie Gatlinburg in the middle of the jungle. Everything in Pai is strange, including the 762 turns it takes to get there. But I'm not sure if I have ever found a place that fits me better. It's home to a fermentory, that makes loads of homemade kombucha. It's surrounded by waterfalls, bamboo houses, canyons and hot springs, all accessible by 5$ rented motorbikes. Here's some pictures from our Pai joyrides and my dreamy birthday.

(we went to a tapas wine bar called "Silhouette" for my birthday dinner. I have been missing cheese terribly, so the cheese plate was a must. Our sweet waiter even had dessert brought out while the live musician serenaded me. Pai was the sweetest, every pun intended).

Birthdays, always brings with it a sense of newness. As much as I mourn my youth, I revel in what my eyes have had the opportunity to see these past 23 years. I remember turning 22 last September, feeling the pressure to have my life together (here's the post from one year ago : ). It's funny how one year later, I still don't have it anymore together, but I'm much more okay with that. Because at this moment, on this 7 hour boat ride to Laos, I'm completely content with being a little lost. As long as on the way, I visit tree tops, go under the ocean, see life from every perspective and give my feet a chance to take me farther, deeper, higher. 

P.S. The past 5 weeks, we have had an ongoing card game going. The name of the game is "Golf". The point is to get the lowest score (like in golf, get it?). So I present to you the final scores from what might have been over 100 games of golf. (This is a humble brag, and possibly just a string of good luck, but I'll take it) 

Rachel: 996
Jordyn: 730
Madi: 682

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