Late last summer, I reluctantly dragged myself onto a bus and moved from Prague to Belgrade. I was Not Happy to leave because:
- Prague is a gorgeous, fascinating city and I was having an incredible time.
- I had no idea what the hell to expect in Serbia.
Any other year, I may have stayed. But my living situation is currently dictated by a calendar, so I promised Prague a return visit and hit the road. You wouldn’t know because I’m years behind on blog posts, but Belgrade was a giant (/weird/exciting/super cool) surprise.
The don’t-make-me-go hit a second time while packing to move to Cambodia. The northern Thai city of Chiang Mai was a big reason I was excited to join RY3. Thailand had been on my bucket list for ages and I fell hard for its culture, food, and friendly locals.
It didn’t take long to understand how the Land of Smiles earned its nickname. Over 30+ days, I didn’t meet a single Thai person who was impolite or unfriendly. Our daily interactions, however brief, made a positive difference in my time there.
Month 9 in Malaysia wasn’t my favorite — EST work hours, daily rainstorms, not “clicking” with KL, and other random factors — but my attitude turned around this month. I was happier; less stressed. It seems I wasn’t the only one who felt the shift. Good vibes are contagious.
I could recap December with several hundred photos of noodles, elephants, and temples. That would be boring and I wouldn’t get to make any puns, so this is the wordy edition:
Eating everything: The first, foremost, and most obvious highlight is the abundance of cheap and delicious food. You can buy pounds of noodles for the price of a single NYC Thai meal and have leftover cash for mango sticky rice, which I’m now thinking about for the third time today.
Also, the Mexican food is on POINT. Not super relevant but had to be noted. Onward.
Temple time: Chiang Mai and its surrounding countryside are home to hundreds of temples, some of which date back to its 1296 founding. Some are massive and ornate, some are small and simple. I tried to visit them all and was unsuccessful, but the ones I saw were pretty cool.
Kelephant and the elephants: Day at Elephant Jungle Sanctuary outside Chiang Mai. Elephants are immensely valued in Thai culture, but many “elephant camps” marketed to tourists are unethical and torture their animals by making them do tricks or carry people. It’s not okay.
Fortunately, there are several organizations where elephants are respected and well-cared for. Elephant Jungle Sanctuary is one of them. We spent a day feeding, bathing, and playing in the mud with these beautiful and intelligent creatures. Hands-down one of the best days this year.
Chiang Mai Marathon: After four months of the world’s weirdest and most geographically diverse training plan, I finished my first marathon abroad in Chiang Mai. RY3 runners finished half and full marathons, some of them for the first time, and I’m so damn proud of them all!
Setting things on fire: Took a Thai cooking class and had a great time learning to make Som Tum (papaya salad – my fave), Penaeng curry, stir-fry chicken & cashews, and chicken in coconut milk soup. I also learned there are no cultural bounds to my terrible cooking, so thanks to the amazing instructor at Secret Thai Cooking School for helping make my dishes edible.
Nomading HARD: Chiang Mai is a haven for expats and nomads from around the world. Its streets are packed with cafés and a growing number of co-working spaces. A couple were open 24 hours, lending some much-needed location variety to my semi-nocturnal working hours.
I’m dreaming of a sticky, tropical Christmas: Spent Christmas morning hiking in the Thai jungle and climbing “sticky waterfalls,” which have a mineral deposit that enables climbers to scale the rocks with bare hands and feet. My Christmas present to myself was getting to be Spider-Man for a day.
We also celebrated with a holiday dinner at the Rustic & Blue farm. It was hard having my first Christmas away from family and friends in the US, but festive and fun to celebrate with my travel family.
Rockin’ out on island time: Post-Christmas trip to Krabi, a southern Thai province known for beaches and epic rock climbing. We went twice with Krabi Rock Climbing on Railay Beach and spent hours scaling walls alongside beautiful sea views. I’m not a big climber (yet) and loved the challenge of outdoor top-rope climbing. Definitely a future hobby.
We also spent a day exploring Krabi’s surrounding islands. While I wouldn’t recommend the tour — which was hilariously disorganized, forgot people, and got us stuck on a coral reef — it was a great day. I snorkeled for the first time, saw clownfish, got so excited I choked, ate mystery BBQ on a dark beach, and swam with glowing plankton in the pitch-black sea.
New Year’s on party island: Ventured from Krabi to the eastern Thai island of Koh Phangan for its Full Moon party on NYE. Think drinking out of buckets, neon everything everywhere, flower crowns, face paint, and lots of tie-dye. It has no chill, but it’s a lot of fun.
As luck would have it, my first bout of Asian food poisoning struck on December 31, but I managed to celebrate midnight on the beach before nausea forced me home. We spent the first 2 days of 2017 lounging seaside and exploring the nearby island of Koh Tao.
Peace, Love, and Pai: Spent a weekend in the hippie backpacker mountain oasis of Pai, lounging by the pool, sipping Chang (basically Thailand’s Budweiser), hanging in hippie bars, eating delicious food, and catching dragonflies in a hot spring. And getting neon face paint because apparently that is a theme this month.
Muay Thai: Saw my first Muay Thai fight and took a class to learn the basics. It was a great workout and I had way more fun in the ring than I thought I would.
Joined a biker gang: Not really, but I did rent this scooter for three days, rode to Chiang Mai’s “Grand Canyon” (spoiler: inflatable water park), and drove around aimlessly because it was fun.
Mango watermelon juice: Shout-out to the wonderful women at the juice stand in Old City market, who made the best watermelon mango juice I’ll ever have in my life. I miss you most.