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From the Ground: Phuket Sea Kayaking Tour

By Nicole Long & Jay Austin

This private sea kayaking tour is great for a small groups or families traveling together. Our partner, John Gray Sea Canoe, is highly rated and receives positive feedback from our guests for their Hongs by Starlight tour. Guests have the choice of where to go and duration of stay at each stop. There are opportunities to see wildlife such as sea-eagles, monkeys, bats, etc.

What you can expect from this tour:

Today you will explore the stunning Thailand waters and try hard-shell kayaking in spectacular Phang Nga Bay. You will depart Phuket at 9am in a Fast Longtail Boat which will circumnavigate North Phang Nga Bay in one day, kayaking two or three of the most spectacular spots in the region. Your guide will give you basic kayaking instruction so you can paddle your own or, you can opt to paddle a double kayak with a guide. After you finish paddling, you will return to the boat and head to Koh Yao Yai for lunch at a local Thai restaurant. After lunch you will head to the last island for some swimming and snorkeling. Return back to Ao Po by 5pm and return to your hotel.

Note: All photos are from John Gray Sea Canoe.

Hotel Review: Marndadee Heritage River Village

By Courtney Ridgel

To begin with, I LOVED the Marndadee Heritage River Village.  Fair enough, this particular property suits my personal tastes, but I feel confident that I will not be alone in appreciating this beautiful hotel.


This property seeks to encompass the feeling of ‘Old Thailand’ so there is a mix of colonial- style buildings and traditional reclaimed wooden houses with tiled roofs.  The property is situated right on the Ping River, so the setting is very peaceful and quiet, and in the spirit of a Thai village, there are small decorative rice paddies on the grounds.  The owners are avid collectors of art, sculptures, and antiques so the property boasts quite a collection displayed throughout the grounds, with unique pieces showcased in each room.  In addition, the original old trees and wells (now filled in and serving as flower pots for ferns) are interspersed between the buildings, as none of them were removed when the hotel was constructed.

In general, this property will be an excellent fit for travelers who are planning to spend more time in the countryside around Chiang Mai, visiting elephants, sightseeing, trekking, etc., and is perfect for those seeking relaxation, a beautiful view and peace and quiet with a romantic nostalgic ‘old-world’ feel.  The Marndadee Heritage River Village can accommodate families, family groups and couples.  The Rice Barn Villas in particular were designed for families, groups of friends or extended families with a three-bedroom option where three separate villas share an outdoor space together in the center, and a private outdoor space to relax beneath each villa.

All that said, this hotel falls in the category of ‘outside of town’.  I’m told that the hotel is normally about a 40 minute drive from the airport but while I was visiting, it took us a bit longer due to Loi Krathong traffic and the bridge along normal route was undergoing repairs which have since been completed.  This property is not particularly well suited for travelers who prefer to be situated at the center of the action in bustling downtown Chiang Mai. Going out to eat frequently may also be problematic, as there isn’t much nearby besides the river, the scenery and the local neighborhoods along the river.  That said, this property does offer a restaurant, spa, pool, fitness room, and free shuttle service to and from downtown Chiang Mai 4 set times a day to keep guests entertained.

Muay Thai in Bangkok

Photo by Courtney Ridgel

By Courtney Ridgel

Muay Thai, Thailand’s famous martial art style, is known for trademark elbow, knee and shin strikes, in addition to a variety of punches and kicks.  This style is thought to date from at least the 1400’s, if not earlier, and became internationally widespread through the 20th century, partially thanks to the interest of King Chulalongkorn, also known as King Rama V.  There is a legend of a famous Siamese (Thai) fighter – Nai Khanom Tom – who was captured by the Burmese army in 1774 when Ayutthaya was attacked, and the Burmese king wished to determine whether the Thai or Burmese martial arts style was best so he organized a competition.  Nai Khanom Tom was chosen to fight for the Thai style and defeated ten of Burma’s finest Parma fighters.  The king was so impressed that Nai Khanom Tom was allowed to return home, granting great renown to his Muay Thai fighting style.   Nowadays, both men and women compete in different circuits, both nationally and internationally.

Photo by Courtney Ridgel

Nicole and I decided to enjoy a night out on the town and experience it for ourselves.  Our car and driver picked us up from the hotel just as the sun was setting, and drove us through town to Rajadamnern Stadium.  We were greeted as we exited the car and taken to pick up our will-call tickets and were led out our VIP seats.  The excitement in the air was electric.  Already, the light-weight fighters were in the ring, cheered on by the crowd under the domed roof.  A live band with traditional instruments played background music to add to the suspense.

Photo by Courtney Ridgel

Before each fight, the contestants would participate in a sacred ritual dance called wai kru ram muay (or wai kru for short) to pay respect to their teachers, families, and to ask for victory.  Each fighter performed a dance unique to their training school. In addition to flamboyant shorts, each boxer also wore a tasseled headband called a mongkol and decorative armbands called prajioud which had been blessed by Buddhist monks to help bring protection and victory.

Photo by Courtney Ridgel

To our surprise and entertainment, we found that the food options included fare such as beer, coco cola, popcorn and hotdogs, for very cheap prices, and arms loaded with snacks, we settled in to enjoy the experience.  Once each fight would begin, the locals would crowd an area roped off for people to stand at each corner of the ring.

Photo by Courtney Ridgel

The fans would cheer, grown, scream and yell advice at the combatants.  In the case of one or two of the contestants, a fan club of girls with signs also descended to cheer from the sidelines.  Although gambling is illegal in Thailand, the security guards didn’t seem to mind too much as long as no one was filming the many excitable bookies placing bets.  (We strongly advise all of our guests not to participate in gambling or other illegal activities while traveling.)  The crowd went particularly wild during a knockout in one of the rounds.

Photo by Courtney Ridgel

Once the title fight had occurred, Nicole and I were taken to meet one of the top fighters and pose for a photo with him before we were escorted back to waiting car and driver who took us back to the hotel.    All in all, it was a wonderfully fun and exciting experience.

Photo by Courtney Ridgel

Thailand’s Famous Fresh Markets

Photo by Courtney Ridgel

By Courtney Ridgel

Thai food is famous around the world, and there is no better way to experience the real deal than to head to a local food market.  Here you’ll find just about everything under the sun and you’ll have the chance to dine out the way the locals do and enjoy the people-watching.  Thailand boasts dishes that are unique to each region so it is worth visiting multiple markets with a local guide who can help describe what you are seeing, smelling and sampling, and who can also translate and make suggestions for you (and let you know when to steer clear of things that may be too spicy or not properly cooked).

Photo by Courtney Ridgel
Photo by Courtney Ridgel
Photo by Courtney Ridgel

In Chiang Mai, Tien, explained the local specially encompasses a certain egg noodle soup (which was delicious) , but she also had me sample the local coffee, the best fried chicken that I have ever eaten in my life, fried pork rinds, fried water buffalo skin, a variety of fruit, a different noodle soup and as I was feeling bold, blood sausage soup, which I decided was not to my taste.  Pork dishes seem to be a particular favorite to the Thais.

Photo by Courtney Ridgel
Photo by Courtney Ridgel
Photo by Courtney Ridgel

In Bangkok, Well led me to a local market (hidden down a maze of back alleys between the tall buildings) where fresh vegetables and spices are brought in daily from the countryside.  Here we sampled tamarind, fresh ginger, turmeric, a variety of candies made from sesame seeds, peanuts and honey, and admired the fresh flowers used in decorations, wedding ceremonies and as offerings at temples.  (I confess that I steered clear of the very large fried cockroaches- I’ve tried crickets before and so far that has been the extent of my bravery on eating bugs.)  The space for this market was donated by the Royal Family so there was also a shrine set up in their honor.

Photo by Courtney Ridgel
Photo by Courtney Ridgel
Photo by Courtney Ridgel

If you find yourself drawn to food, we’d recommend our Bangkok’s Culinary Delights tour to sample more of Bangkok’s legendary street food.  I personally can’t wait to go back and try more of the savory soups and delicious grilled meats and fried fish I spotted.  If you want to learn to prepare these dishes yourself, we recommend taking a cooking class with Pantawan Cooking School in Chiang Mai, and Amita Thai Cooking School in Bangkok.

Photo by Courtney Ridgel
Photo by Courtney Ridgel
Photo by Courtney Ridgel

Royal Cremation Ceremonies in October 2017

Photo by Courtney Ridgel

By Courtney Ridgel

Thailand has been mourning the passing of King Bhumibol Adulyadej since last October, and this October (2017), will mark the end of this period of mourning.  The king’s body will be cremated and both official and religious ceremonies are expected to mark the occasion.  The Thai government has officially announced that the ceremonies will take place October 25th -29th, 2017, with the official cremation date on October 26th.

For travelers heading to Thailand in October, this means that the Grand Palace, Wat Phra Kaew and the surrounding areas will likely be closed off to the public.  It is rumored that the Grand Palace may close as early as the 23rd of October in order to make preparations and rehearse for the ceremonies.   The day of cremation (October 26th) will be a public holiday, and many business, museums and attractions will be closed out of respect.  You can find further details about the expected schedule of the cremation ceremonies in this article from the Bangkok Post, and you can see photos from the last Royal funeral, which included an elaborate procession, in this article from the International Business Times.  A procession for the upcoming ceremonies in October is also likely, and so traffic delays can also be expected.

Photo by Courtney Ridgel

We will continue to monitor the situation and will keep our guests updated on what to expect, and if necessary will adjust itineraries to work around the closures.   If you plan to travel to Thailand before the end of October, we recommend reading our blog about what to expect when Visiting the Grand Palace during this period of mourning, as there are certain unusual regulations in place for the year.  For example, visitors to the Grand Palace are still expected to dress entirely in ‘mute’ colors – black or dark navy until after the cremation ceremonies in October.

As always, please remember that deep respect should be shown to the King and Royal Family at all times. Showing respect for King is the law (known as the lese majeste laws) and all people within Thailand, including foreigners, are required to abide by this law.  Additionally, the Thai people loved their King and deeply mourn his passing.

Photo by Courtney Ridgel

 

Other Blog Articles Related to this topic:

King Bhumibol Adulyadej

What to Expect in Thailand Over the Next Month – October 2016

What to expect from Loi Krathong this year – October 2016

Visiting the Grand Palace