Living at the Panya Project – What’s What?

We’ve been living at Panya for about a month now, so we figured it was past time for an update!  When we first got here, we set up camp in the dorms.  There are two housing buildings right next to each other when you first arrive at Panya.  They each have rows of dorm beds on the top floor and private rooms on the ground level.  For the most part, people that are staying for Panya for a short time stay in the dorms, and long-termers stay in the private rooms.  Since all of the private rooms were taken when we arrived, we were temporarily put in the dorms.

The dorm buildings
The dorm buildings
The upper level of one of the housing buildings.  There are about 8 mattresses in each, with a mosquito net.
The upper level of one of the housing buildings. There are about 8 mattresses in each, with a mosquito net.
We pushed two of the mattresses together to make this luxurious set up when we first arrived.
We pushed two of the mattresses together to make this luxurious set up when we first arrived.

The first few days were mostly spent getting to know our surroundings and the people we were going to be living in the community with.  Right now, there are 3 people that are currently sort of ‘running things’ that have been living at Panya for several years.  Their names are Ben, Kyle, and Lola and they have been living here for several years teaching courses and maintaining the farm.  Kyle and Lola also have a 4 month old baby girl and have just finished building a new house for the 3 of them! We happened to arrive at a time where a bunch of long term volunteers were leaving so it was a little chaotic with all of the comings and goings.  We have now gotten used to the routine of things and it’s feeling a lot more like ‘home.’ Currently, there are 4 interns (Joe and I, included) in addition to the course instructors.  Sometimes there are more and sometimes less, it just depends on when volunteers come.

We got our own room about a week after we arrived.  It's on the bottom level of one of the housing buildings and the biggest private room.  (We got dibs because there's two of us.)  Again, we pushed two mattresses together to make a bigger bed - and they're not even on the floor!
We got our own room about a week after we arrived. It’s on the bottom level of one of the housing buildings and the biggest private room. (We got dibs because there’s two of us.) Again, we pushed two mattresses together to make a bigger bed – and they’re not even on the floor!
More of our room.  There's some shelving, art on the walls, and colorful plaster work
More of our room. There’s some shelving, art on the walls, and colorful plaster work
The other side of our room.  The orange sheet on the right serves as our door.  The one on the left is a window.
The other side of our room. The orange sheet on the right serves as our door. The one on the left is a window.
This is what our room looks like from the outside.
This is what our room looks like from the outside.

Two and a half weeks ago marked the beginning of a Permaculture Design Course, the first course that we have been present for.  For the most part, the interns and volunteers continue going about their projects during the course, but we are also allowed to sit in on some of the lectures.  There are around 10 students that have come for the course, so we have had to adjust our routine to having all the extra bodies around!

This is the main structure on the farm, the Sala.
This is the main structure on the farm, the Sala.
It contains the classroom, the kitchen, the dining room, and the library
It contains the classroom, the kitchen, the dining room, and the library
Here is the Sala, coming from the dorms.
Here is the Sala, coming from the dorms.
This is the classroom, which is really only used when a course is in session
This is the classroom, which is really only used when a course is in session
This is the library, which is on the second floor above the dining area.  There are a ton of books up there and some old couches.
This is the library, which is on the second floor above the dining area. There are a ton of books up there and some old couches.
This is a little balcony that sits over the classroom.  It's a good spot to sit during classes (to watch without disrupting.)
This is a little balcony that sits over the classroom. It’s a good spot to sit during classes (to watch without disrupting) or just to hang out.

When a course is not in session, the residents of Panya are divided into four groups: Dinner, Lunch, Potwash, and Tidy.  The chores rotate each day so that everyone is either cooking for the group or cleaning up.  We try to use a lot of food from our garden and supplement it with foods from the market.  It is always a vegetarian diet and usually vegan.  We eat a lot of rice, as well.  During a course though, a local woman and friend of the farm cooks lunch and dinner for all of the students and residents.  That has been fantastic because not only do we not have to cook, she makes amazing food!

This is the kitchen, equipped with a refrigerator, a sink, and three gas stoves.
This is the kitchen, equipped with a refrigerator, a sink, and three gas stoves.
Work Team chores.  We rotate the wheel each day so that everyone contributes.
Work Team chores. We rotate the wheel each day so that everyone contributes.
This is the dining area (with the kitchen behind it) where we eat pretty much every meal as a community.
This is the dining area (with the kitchen behind it) where we eat pretty much every meal as a community.
These are the wood fire ovens
These are the wood fire ovens
Here are all of the big pots and woks.  Beyond those is the washing station where we have large bowls of water to wash our dishes.  This cuts down on water waste.
Here are all of the big pots and woks. Beyond those is the washing station where we have large bowls of water to wash our dishes. This cuts down on water waste.
The fire pit, right outside the dining area
The fire pit, right outside the dining area

There are lots of creepy crawlies at Panya, including cobras, scorpions, and centipedes.  There are also lots of tiny flies that buzz around your ankles 24/7.  Oh, and mosquitoes as well.  It was a bit annoying at first, but we’ve come to ignore it.  We have seen 2 scorpions and a few snakes.  The red centipedes can supposedly get really large but we’ve only seen little ones.  Apparently the centipedes are the most painful out of everything you can get stung/bitten by, but the only thing you might need to seek medical attention for is a cobra bite.  Last week, a yellow jacket (or some kind of formidable-looking, yellow and black stinging insect) got inside our mosquito net and stung me on the wrist.  That’s been the only sting so far…but there have been lots of red ant bites.  We have a lot of those as well.  Oh, and termites.  One night, there were so many flying termites buzzing around the lights in the kitchen, you could barely see across the room.  There are also lots of beetles that fly around at night time.  Some of them are literally 3 inches long and really fat.  The geckos will hang out on the ceiling and catch them as they fly by, which can be quite entertaining.

Here is the biggest snake we have seen.  Nobody was sure what kind of snake it was or whether it was dangerous, but it has been seen a few times around the site.
Here is the biggest snake we have seen. Nobody was sure what kind of snake it was or whether it was dangerous, but it has been seen a few times around the site.
Here is one of the garden areas right next to the kitchen.  There's a lot of food growing there like carrots, New Zealand spinach, tomatoes, etc.  We harvest a lot of salads from this garden.
Here is one of the garden areas right next to the kitchen. There’s a lot of food growing there like carrots, New Zealand spinach, tomatoes, kale, etc. We harvest a lot of salads from this garden.
This is the nursery, a few yards away from the kitchen.
This is the nursery, a few yards away from the kitchen.
There are lots of young plants that have been propagated and are living here until they are strong enough to be planted elsewhere.
There are lots of young plants that have been propagated and are living here until they are strong enough to be planted elsewhere.
The plants on the floor there are seedlings from a Jamaican cherry tree.
The plants on the floor there are seedlings from a Jamaican cherry tree.
More nursery plants
More nursery plants
This is the workshop which houses all of the tools and materials used for all kinds of projects.
This is the workshop which houses all of the tools and materials, used for all kinds of projects.
We are working on organizing it...
We are working on organizing it…
This is a chicken tractor in the process of being built.
This is a chicken tractor in the process of being built.

There are two compost toilet facilities on site.  One behind the dorms, and a large one across the road from the workshop.  The one behind the dorms only has one toilet.  The one near the workshop has four, but only two are used at a time, to let the other two have time to compost.  There are also two male showers and two female showers next to the compost toilet.  All of the soaps we use (for dish washing, personal hygiene, etc.) are natural and organic so that the water can be used to hydrate the gardens.

The big compost toilet building near the workshop
The big compost toilet building near the workshop
The four 'stalls'
The four ‘stalls’
The inside of one of the stalls.  Rustic, you could say, but it should be noted that these are a lot nicer and cleaner than many, if not all, public restrooms in Southeast Asia that we have encountered.  There is very little to no odor, thanks to the use of rice husks.
The inside of one of the stalls. Rustic, you could say, but it should be noted that these are a lot nicer and cleaner than many, if not all, public restrooms in Southeast Asia that we have encountered. There is very little to no odor, thanks to the use of rice husks.
The women's showers.  We have solar heated water, but it's so sweltering that I don't think anyone uses it!
The women’s showers. We have solar heated water, but it’s so sweltering that I don’t think anyone uses it!

Although the farm can feel remote, we are only a 30 minute walk from the village where we can access wifi at a local internet cafe.  And Chiang Mai is only about an hour away.  There is a truck and a motorbike we can use to get to the market as well.  There are also two reservoirs near by, a waterfall, and a canal.  We go to the big reservoir to swim a lot, which is nice with it being so hot right now.  Mostly, we have really enjoyed being disconnected and spending our days surrounded by natural beauty.

The pig pen
The pig pen
Apparently a former resident was into raising his own livestock to eat, but when he left, no one else was interested in doing that, so they are just kept as members of the community and ecosystem.  They also eat a lot of our food waste, like watermelon rinds.
Apparently a former resident was into raising his own livestock to eat, but when he left, no one else was interested in doing that, so these are just kept as members of the community and ecosystem. They also eat a lot of our food waste, like watermelon rinds.
Here is one of the houses on the property, called the Elephant House.
Here is one of the houses on the property, called the Elephant House.  All of the structures are made using natural building techniques like cob and adobe bricks.
Another house
Another house, further along the road.
This is just one of the views from the farm.  It's really beautiful!
This is just one of the stunning views from the farm. It really is a beautiful spot.
Even though it's hot, we have a pretty good amount of shade from the jungle trees and plants.
Even though it’s hot, we have a pretty good amount of shade from the jungle trees and plants.

Now that we have spent a month helping out with other people’s projects and listening in on the Permaculture Design Course, it’s about time for us to decide what areas of the farm we want to focus on.  I will be focusing on natural building and Joe is thinking about working on the food forest.  We don’t have specific projects in mind, yet but we think those will be our areas of specialization for the remainder of our time at Panya.  We have some idea we’ve been kicking around…hopefully we’ll have some cool stuff to share in a month or so.

A layout of the property.
A layout of the property.

We’ve been having a blast at Panya.  The last month has absolutely flown by, and we’re looking forward to two more months of cracking down and starting some projects.  We’re only a third of the way through, but can already tell it’s going to be tough when it comes time to leave.  We are very grateful to be able to do what we are doing! Thanks for following, we’ll be in touch soon! 🙂

Celebrating Songkran – The Thai New Year and World’s Biggest Water Fight!

Our first taste of Songkran was actually up in Pai.  We were walking down the street as per usual, when a grown man appeared out of no where and tossed a bucket of water at us as we passed his restaurant!  ‘Officially,’ Songkran is celebrated April 13-15th for the Thai New Year, but many people start throwing water several days early and several days after the festival has ended.

The tradition of Songkran began by sprinkling water on family members as a symbol of cleansing and purification, in celebration of the new year.  Today, it has evolved into a full-on, country-wide water fight with buckets, water guns, and lot and lots of drinking.

There are pretty much no exceptions regarding who you are allowed to throw water on.  Kids are doing it, old people are doing it, everyone is doing it!  Supposedly if you hold your hand out, people are supposed to respect your disinclination to be pelted, by just sprinkling a little bit of water on your hand, but we saw countless people attempt this maneuver and get drenched anyway.  There were people that looked like they had just arrived in Chiang Mai and were carrying their giant backpacks around with them, pour souls.

The first official day of Songkran was the day we went to the elephant park.  As we were returning to Chiang Mai after visiting the elephants, it took us nearly an hour just to get into the city and to our hotel.  The traffic was insane and there were people absolutely everywhere.  We were too exhausted from playing with elephants all day to partake in the excitement and decided we would participate the next day.  We did get drenched just walking into our hotel, though!  There is no escaping it!

The second day we went out to the main road near our hotel in mid afternoon when the festivities were in full force.  We got soaked within 5 minutes of being outside our hotel.  Sometimes we would get squirted with a gun and look around, only to find that a business man (in a suit!) was shooting at us from inside his office.  Sometimes the servers at a restaurant would throw buckets at passerbys when they had a break between tables.  Lots of people drive around in the back of pickup trucks with huge barrels of water (full of ice!!) and dump buckets on people as they drive by.  It is absolute insanity.

People on the street ready to destroy the next tuk tuk!
Lots of cars driving around with a few more passengers than usual…


Our street really enjoyed shooting people riding by in tuk tuks.  Sometimes the tuk tuk driver would intentionally slow down or even stop so that the people could drench his passengers!  Tourists and locals alike were ganging up on them and forming alliances to fight epic water battles from opposite sides of the streets.  Ya know, even with oncoming traffic in both directions.  (The death toll is pretty high during Songkran.)

These guys had a big barrel of water in the truck that they were using to splash us!



The third day and last day of Songkran was the day we really decided to turn out and do it right.  We had our water guns (and a bottle of booze) and headed out to the canals where things were really crazy.  People use the canal water to fill up their buckets and water guns.  Yes, it is disgusting; but we’ve also jumped in Mirror Lake at Ohio State…so it’s fine.  We were surrounded by screaming people pelting each other with ice water, and stages thumping loud house music with soaking wet Thai people raging their faces off.

A bunch of young Thais gathered around a thumping stage. The guys on the stage were shooting everyone in the crowd with hoses.
Filling up our water guns in the canal
This guy just got right in to fill his up. Some people were just straight up swimming in it.

We were soaked the minute we stepped out of our hotel, but it was the people driving around with buckets of ice water that really got us!  You never get used to it.  To be fair though, April is the hottest month of the year in Thailand, and we weren’t feeling it, being soaked in ice water all day!  It was a nice relief, though a bit shocking!



We moved on from the canal after a while and stumbled on a parade going through town.  There were lots of different groups and some of them were dancing and playing traditional music while people threw water on them!


IMG_2919 IMG_2921


We ended up in a group fight with a bunch of other backpackers for a while.  Some hotels/restaurants would have a big barrel out front for people to fill up their guns so there would always be a congregation of people surrounding them.  It seemed like people were pretty generous about sharing water, but you had to ‘pay the toll’ of being pelted by all the people standing around it in order to get any!



After that, we ended up on the main road near our hotel again where things got just a little out of hand.  Joe jumped on (and fell off) a moving tuk tuk in order to drench the passengers inside.  Meanwhile, I had teamed up with a 4 year old Thai boy and we were sneaking up on people and shooting them from two sides at once.  At one point the owner of the restaurant we were in front of started telling people they couldn’t use any more of his water because they were not ‘friends.’  But for some reason he continued letting us use it!  I think he appreciated us keeping his child entertained for several hours!




Even motorbikes aren’t safe!



By about 7pm we were absolutely exhausted (and quite drunk) and ended up calling it a very early night!  We woke up the next day sore and scraped, but it was most definitely worth it!  It was a pretty unique New Year’s celebration and one of the wildest parties in the world!  We were glad we were in town for the celebration and grateful for the opportunity to participate.


Playing with Elephants in Chiang Mai!

After several days relaxing in Pai, it was time to make the treacherous journey back down to Chiang Mai.  The ride was just as nauseating as the first time, but soon enough we were being dropped off at our hotel.  We booked a room in advance because we were going to arrive the day before Songkran, the biggest water fight in the world, being a three day celebration of the Thai New Year.

It also happened to be a Sunday, which meant we got to check out the Sunday Market in the center of town.  It was full of the usual clothing and handicraft vendors along with street artists and exotic treats.  It was also incredibly packed because so many people were in town for Songkran.  Chiang Mai is a major destination to celebrate Songkran so the city gets packed with both Thai and foreign tourists.  It was a little chaotic!

Chiang Mai’s Sunday Market
Lots of artists were posted up along the streets.
It was very crowded!


The next day we had made reservations for one of the activities we had been looking forward to for months: playing with elephants!

We were picked up at 8:30am by a van that would take us the one hour ride to Elephant Nature Park, a rescue and rehabilitation center, known for its ethical treatment of elephants and ambition to spread awareness of the plight of the Asian elephant.  During the ride, we got to view a National Geographic documentary on the treatment of elephants in most Thai elephant camps.  It showed video documentation of the horrific breaking process called “Phajaan,” where a baby elephant is ripped away from its mother and put in a tiny “cage” that it barely fits into, completely restricting all movement.  Then, it is stabbed and beaten with nails, chains, and bullhooks to “teach the elephant who is boss.”  This is an ancient process used often in Thailand, and is considered to be the only way to domesticate an elephant for riding and working purposes.

Basically, the video explained that a major reason this process is still being used, is because there is a huge tourist demand for riding elephants.  People can make money off of domesticating elephants to be ridden, so this process is being perpetuated by the thousands of tourists that come to Thailand to ride elephants each year.  There are some camps that claim to offer ‘ethical’ elephant rides by only making the elephants work for a few hours a day, and limiting the weight on each elephant, but that doesn’t stop people from wanting to cash in on the elephant riding business, and thus continue using the Phajaan process.

But, doesn’t the idea of sitting on top of an elephant and trekking through the jungle sound awesome??  We thought it did, but we were glad that we did the research beforehand on the ugly side of this popular activity.  Elephant Nature Park is unusual because it does not offer any elephant rides.  Most of the elephants in the park have been rescued from such places and are now allowed to roam the park, have immediate access to veterinary care, and interact with guests in a much more ethical/humane way.  After doing a lot of research beforehand on the treatment of elephants, this is why we chose to go to Elephant Nature Park instead of any of the other elephant camps.

Once we arrived at the park, we were briefed by our guide on what we would be doing and how to safely interact with the elephants.  We were told that some of the elephants in the park still suffer from mental issues because of the abuse they experienced in the past, so we should only approach elephants that our guide indicated were friendly.  It’s also important to approach them from the front if you want to pet them, because they can’t see you if you’re standing behind, and they will kick!

The first thing we got to do was feed the elephants.  This part we had to do from behind a fence on a large platform to protect us from their trunks.  They bob their heads up and down a lot when they’re being fed and the force could knock you over!  They knew what we were coming over to do and started reaching their trunks out to us before we even had anything to give them.

An elephant named ‘Lucky,’ begging for food!
Several of them were waiting for us to feed them.

Our guide brought us a big laundry basket full of corn and watermelons to give to the elephants.  We held it out to them in our hand and they would use the ‘finger’ on the end of their trunks to grab it and place it in their mouths.  Sometimes they would get a piece they didn’t like for some reason and would just drop it on the ground after grabbing it, then reach out for a new piece!

This is Lucky again. She used to work in a circus, but was blinded by spotlights and rescued by ENP.
She had a very happy disposition and even though she couldn’t see, we called her name when we had food to give her and she followed our voices.
Joe feeding Lucky
As soon as she shoved a piece of watermelon or corn in her mouth she was ready for the next one!

After feeding them for a while, we walked down the steps to walk around the park.  We followed our guide to a group of three elephants that we were allowed to approach and pet.  The oldest of the three was 75 years old!  They were all very sweet and gentle.







After hanging out with those three for a while, our guide beckoned us to follow her again to meet another elephant.  This one was hanging out alone near the Medicine Room.  Our guide told us that she is very paranoid of other elephants and will run away if they get too close to her.  She also had a hole in her ear, a scar from her abusive past in the illegal logging industry.  Now she wears a flower earring in it!



Our guide called for us to move on again and we walked across the park to a group of three ladies snacking on more corn and watermelon.  One of them, whose name is Medo, was one of the most touching and heart wrenching elephants to meet.  Medo was also employed in the logging industry, until she was injured by a log that broke her ankle.  Because of her injury, she was no longer able to work in the logging industry, so she was was forced to breed instead.  She was chained and savagely attacked by a huge bull in musth (an aggressive period caused by hormones) that left her with a dislocated backbone.

Medo has a hard time walking because of her injuries and they are never going to get better.

Luckily she was rescued and though her injuries will never properly heal, she now lives a life free of abuse and has even made some close friends despite being isolated for much of her life.

…but Medo lives a much better life now that she has been rescued.




After that it was time for lunch, which was a surprisingly delicious buffet of all kinds of curries, meats, veggies, and noodles.  Definitely better than what we had expected, especially since it was a buffet.  Our guide told us that after lunch we would get to meet some baby elephants!

Our guide led us across the park again where we found a group four adult females and a 1.5 year old baby named Yindee. He was closely followed by his mother Mintra, and his nannies, Mae Jampaa, Malai Tong and Jarunee.

Baby Yindee


We watched them interact for a while and then followed them down to the river where they proceeded to take a bath, rolling around and splashing in the water.  Yindee was being particularly playful and even trying to climb on top of the adults.  Sometimes he would go underwater for minutes at a time and all we could see was his little trunk sticking out above the surface.

Yindee didn’t want to get in the water at first, and waited until all of his nannies got in the river.
One of Yindee’s nannies rolling around in the water
Yindee playing in the water with his nannies.




It was hard to discern what exactly had happened but at some point they all started trumpeting at each other and we were hastily told to back away as the elephants came out of the water.  Some of them started making really loud growling noises that sort of sounded like tigers or lions, and it got a little bit intense.  We asked our guide what was happening and she said it was because of the baby (there was a little bit of a language barrier.)  It looked like they were being protective and once they were out of the water, the adults surrounded the baby so he could hardly be seen.

The elephants started getting anxious for some reason and formed a barricade around Yindee.
They all got out of the water together and stood like this for a while before they calmed down.

Somehow, whatever they were concerned about passed and they started throwing dirt on their backs which was really adorable.  Our guide said they use it as ‘sunscreen.’

Throwing dirt on their backs to protect them from the sun


Next, we walked to a different part of the river and got to give an elephant a bath!  We were given buckets to throw water on her back.  It was blazing hot and she looked like she was in heaven.

Giving our elephant a bath in the river
Look at that face!


After playing in the river, we walked back to the platform to meet “the big family.”  The family consists of a 2.5 year old elephant named Nevann and his nannies, one of whom is named Kham Pan, an elephant rescued from a trekking camp.  Apparently she was given to the park after she collapsed under the weight of tourists going for a ride, and was too old to continue.  After receiving higher quality treatment at the park, she regained a lot of her energy and became a little unruly.  For some reason, when Navann was born, she developed an infatuation with the baby elephant and hasn’t left his side since.  They call her “Super Nanny.”

Baby Nevann





It was really intimidating being surrounded by this huge family.  One of them almost accidentally crushed us against a wall, when she was rubbing up against a post to relieve an itch!  It was fun to watch Nevann running around causing mischief.

One of his nannies was especially huge!
This is the one that almost crushed us! We got away just in time.



The last baby we met was Khun Dej, a rescued orphan boy whose foot was damaged in a poacher’s trap.  He was enjoying himself, snacking with his nannies.

Orphan baby Khun Dej having a snack with his nannies


You can see how his front left foot is enlarged, due to an injury from a poacher’s trap

After that, it was time to say goodbye and head back to Chiang Mai.  We fell asleep on the van almost immediately after a long day visiting with the elephants.  We capped the night with a bottle of wine and the new episode of Game of Thrones.

Our visit to Elephant Nature Park was absolutely incredible and most definitely a highlight of our journeys.  Being able to interact with the elephants so intimately (and ethically) was a really amazing opportunity for which we are very grateful.  Very glad that such a wonderful operation exists and that we were able to help support their cause.

Breakfast: 95b ($2.93)

Elephant Nature Park Single Day Visit (x2): 5,000b ($154.19)

Iced Thai Tea: 40b ($1.23)

Soda: 20b ($0.62)

Gatorade: 30b ($0.93)

Dinner: 470b ($14.49)

Wine: 299b ($9.22)

Chips/Beer: 100b ($3.08)

Accommodation: 400b ($12.33)

Total Spent: 6,454THB ($199.02)

Pai – Hippies, Canyons, and Street Food

After a few days in Chiang Rai, we wanted to visit Pai, a small town in Northwest Thailand.  Unfortunately there is no direct bus from Chiang Rai, so to get there, we had to first travel back down to Chiang Mai and then up again to Pai.

First we had to get a tuk tuk to the Chiang Rai bus station, where we were pointed toward a booth to buy a ticket to Chiang Mai.  The bus to Chiang Mai was pretty uneventful and took about 3 or 4 hours.  Once we got there, we had to figure out where to buy a ticket for Pai.  We asked the woman sitting at the kiosk thing and she pointed us to another bus station “bus station 2” that was right next to the one we were in.  Once we found the right place, we bought our tickets and had to wait about half an hour for the van to leave.

The van to Pai bordered on agonizing.  The trip is famed for its 762 curves, some of which are vomit-inducing hairpins, and the driver was persistent on maintaining a ludicrous speed the entire way.  To top it off, we hadn’t eaten since breakfast, so we were in an unpleasant state of hungry yet nauseous…

It took another 3-4 hours to finally get to Pai, but it was definitely worth the trip!  We found a cheap room right on the main street right away, just as the sun was going down.

Pai is known for being a “hippie town” and very tourism-oriented, but picturesque and laid back.

Cute little town of Pai

We spent four relaxing days in Pai enjoying the superb scenery, drinking smoothies and kombucha at all the different cafes, enjoying some of the best Thai food we’d had in the entire country, and having a few drinks at the various bars around town that had live musicians every night.

There were lots of street vendors every night selling food and clothing.
Couldn’t resist a photo of this little guy
Iced chai masala, yum!
Street art in Pai
Sitting at a bar on the main strip, enjoying a beer and people watching
More street art

The last day was probably our favorite.  We let ourselves sleep in past breakfast and got brunch at a place called Ohm Garden Cafe which was delicious, then hung out at our bungalow for a few hours before heading to Pai Canyon to see the sunset.

We took a roundtrip tuk tuk for 100 baht each and got there about 30-40 minutes before the sun went down.  We explored the area and climbed around the rocks.  The view was breathtaking!  (Though some call it the “Thai’s response to the Grand Canyon” which is really reaching.)













The sunset was amazing and it was the perfect way to spend our last day in Pai.












When we got back and were trying to decide where to eat for dinner, Joe had the idea that we sample a whole bunch of street food instead of going to a restaurant.  It ended up being a great idea!

We started out with sushi that was only 5-10 baht per piece!  Then Joe tried a couple of different sausages on a stick.



Next, Joe finally made good on his promise to try a fried insect while in Thailand.  His choice was cicadas, but the woman threw in a couple of meal worms as a bonus.  He said the locusts were crunchy like potato chips and he actually ate a couple of them until he got one that was a little underdone and described it as being “meaty.”  He did not eat any more after that.



To take his mind off of the chewy insect carcass he had just ingested, we tried some homemade beef jerky which was pretty good.  They even warmed it up over a fire for us.


Lastly we got a piece of BBQ chicken which was pretty good but it was weirdly salty…kind of like ham.

We finished our street food tour with a warm Soy Chai Masala.

After that, we decided to head over to a bar called Edible Jazz (where we had spent the last two nights as well…really liked it there) where we sat on pillows on a bamboo platform and watched the live band they had that night.


After a couple of drinks, we stopped for one last snack at a “Grandma’s Pancakes.” Where an older Thai woman made us the most artistic silver dollar pancakes stuffed with bananas and drizzled in chocolate.  They were only 40 baht for 10!


We had a few debates about Pai and whether or not it we liked it.  Pai is undeniably a fun place to be, but it’s not exactly ‘authentic’ or ‘traditional.’  It didn’t really feel like being in a foreign or exotic country and sometimes it felt like there were more tourists than Thais there.  It could have been a town in California or something.  That doesn’t mean it wasn’t cool or enjoyable, just not exactly what you picture when you think of visiting Thailand.  We agreed it was still a place well worth visiting, though.  The vibe was nice and it was a great little vacation from vacation!

White Temple/Black House – Contemporary Architecture in Chiang Rai

After a long, long (~16 hour) overnight journey from Bangkok, we arrived in Chiang Rai, a largeish city in the very nothern most part of Thailand, at about 8am.  Luckily, we had looked up a place to stay and knew where to tell the tuk tuk driver to take us.

Our hotel’s name was Chat House, where we scored a double bed with a fan and private bathroom for only 250Baht, about half the price of our accommodations in the Thai islands.  It also had an attached restaurant in a romantic garden setting.  We liked the north already!

Despite our desperate desire to just collapse in bed and crash, we decided to take advantage of the day and go see one of Chiang Rai’s most famed attractions, Wat Rong Khun, also known as ‘The White Temple.’  We wandered out of our hotel and down the road until we were able to flag down a tuk tuk.  We told him where we wanted to go, and we agreed on 300Baht roundtrip, including wait time at the temple.

The White Temple is a Buddhist temple-styled art exhibit that is owned, designed, and constructed by Chalermchai Kositpipat.  He opened the temple to visitors in 1997 and has devoted his entire life to its construction, to this day.  In fact, the total construction of the White Temple is expected to take 90 years to complete!

It was clear upon arrival that this was no ordinary temple.  Even the traffic cones leading up to the entrance were a bit strange…

Traffic cones in front of the White Temple

The main structure is called the Ubosot.  It is an all white building trimmed in tiny mirrors, styled in the likeness of traditional Thai architecture.  The building glitters at every angle – it’s pretty magical, and definitely the most unique temple we’ve seen, yet.

The White Temple!
Just posing with Chalermchai Kositpipat.

When we arrived, the main temple was closed for lunch, but it was going to reopen in about 20 minutes so we used that time to walk around the grounds.  The first structure we came upon was a sort of demonic shrine with a bottle of whiskey in the center.  Every detail of the temple seemed to be carry religious symbolism, and the grounds around the temple seemed to symbolize the wordly distractions holding us back from what is truly important.  This wasn’t the only anti-alcohol symbol on the grounds, but it was a very intense one!

A sculpture depicting fiery demons around a bottle of whiskey
And…Predator emerging out of the ground?
Is Predator worshipping the whiskey? Did he drink too much whiskey and is now being sucked into Hell? Does drinking whiskey conjur Predator to appear out of the Earth?  ….?

We kept walking further on and came to a line of trees with ghost-like heads hanging from the limbs.  Some of the heads were images from Western pop culture.  It is said that the artist’s aim is to reimagine the teachings of Buddhism for the modern world…perhaps he’s using villain-like characters to drive the point?

Demon looking heads hanging from the trees
Some pop culture characters amongst the demons
…even Batman!

Next we came upon a golden building, the only structure in the entire complex that wasn’t white.  Turns out, it was the bathroom!  Apparently the artist chose this opulent color for the toilets as a comment on worshipping worldly desires and what their actual worth is.  In other words, we tend to associate the color gold with things that are important (because gold is materialistically valuable.)  So when you first see the ornate golden building standing amongst the white ones, a person might think, ‘Oh, that must be a special building because it’s gold and that’s a special color!”  Alas, no, tis the toilet.

A beautiful golden building…
…oh, it’s the bathroom!

Next, we came upon a half finished building and some tree looking things next to it.  As we got closer, we realized they were made out of thousands of hanging tin ornaments.  They are sold for 30 Baht and visitors can write a wish or message on it, then hang it one of the ‘trees.’

Silvery tree-thing
The trees are actually made out of thousands of tin ornaments
You can purchase one for about $1 to write a message and hang.



Right next to the trees was a gazebo, all in white, just like the temple.  Inside was a beautiful golden wishing well.  Not sure if the gold was another symbolic choice like the toilets?  On the inner ring of the well was a picture of each astrological zodiac sign.

The gazebo
The wishing well inside the gazebo
The bottom of the well, encircled by the 12 astrological zodiac signs

Around the corner was a structure styled just like the big temple, but it had a rope across the entrance so visitors could not enter.  We weren’t sure what this building was meant to be, maybe it was a newer structure and not entirely completed?  Still very beautiful to walk around and admire, though.

A smaller building with the same architectural style as the main structure



Finally, it was time to visit the Ubosot!



The Ubosot is surrounded by a shallow moat full of large, white koi fish.  As we got closer to the front of the building, we were greeted by horrifying creatures lining the edge of the walkway.  The temple building represents the realm of Buddha, and one must cross and escape the earthly desires (symbolized by demons and ghostly, grasping hands emerging from the earth) in order to enter.

The moat in front of the Ubosot full of white koi fish
Hands reaching up from the ground



The bridge, guarded by demons


Once we managed to escape the demons and impure desires, we reached the main temple hall.  Photography is not permitted inside the temple, but it was unbelievable!  The walls were covered in murals including Western idols such as Michael Jackson and Neo from the Matrix amidst writhing flames and demons, but there were also people riding in tranquil cloud-boats that were sailing over a sea of rainbows.  Sounds bizarre (and it was) but there is really no way to satisfactorily describe it.  You can look at some pictures of the murals here.





Successfully fascinated and weirded out, we headed back to our hotel where we took a nap (couldn’t help it) then went out to explore the Night Bazaar in town.  It was a really quaint little market and we got some delicious barbecue for dinner for less than $6.  Win!


The next day we set out to visit what could be considered the White Temple’s counterpart: The Baandam Museum, also known as ‘The Black House.’  Like the day before, we wandered down street to find a tuk tuk, and agreed on a 300Baht round trip fare.

In contrast with the White Temple, the structures of Black House are (as one might expected) mostly dark browns and blacks.  The complex is the creation (and former home) of a late Chiang Rai artist named Thawan Duchanee.  In fact, he was the teacher of,Chalermchai Kositpipat, the artist who designed the White Temple.  Like the White Temple, construction is still in progress at the Black House, and it seems the artist put things in place to have it continue after his death.

The entrance of the Black House complex
And another photo-op with Thawan Duchanee. Wonder who had that idea first?

Unlike the White Temple, there doesn’t seem to be nearly as much religious significance to the Black House.  It seems more like an ornate collection of things like animal furs, bones, and sculptures.  Although it has a darker vibe to it, we found the architecture at the Black House to be more elegant than that of the White Temple.

Intricate carvings in a door at the Black House
Inside the main building
A huge alligator skin, amongst other bones and furs.
An enormous snake skin used as a table runner.
The elegant architecture of the Black House
Another intricately carved door frame

The grounds are full of buildings of similar style, containing all sorts of strange things.  Some are monstrous, some are relatively small.  There are even bathrooms decorated with seashells and wood sculptures.  There was also some of the most ornately carved doors and furniture we had ever seen.

Some phallic sculptures and seashells…
It’s hard to see in the picture, but there were two enormous boa constrictors in a little hut in the middle of the grounds.
And a large owl that peeped at us as we walked past.





It was a strange combination of totally creepy, yet somehow elegant.  I think it might have trumped the White Temple in weirdness.  Wild animals, phallic sculptures…even the skeleton of an elephant…



A whole elephant skeleton!



The Black House has gained so much notoriety, Thawan Duchanee has been declared a National Artist in Thailand.

Perhaps the most bizarre two days of our entire trip, but a good balance between the black and the white!  And we couldn’t resist another barbecue dinner at the Night Bazaar.


Breakfast: 120b ($3.69)

Coca Cola: 25b ($0.77)

Tuk Tuk to White Temple: 300b ($9.22)

Ornament: 30b ($0.92)

Sticker: 20b ($0.61)

BBQ Dinner at the Night Bazaar: 205b ($6.30)

Ice Cream: 220b ($6.76)

Water (2): 28b ($0.86)

Accommodation: 250b ($7.69)

4/5 Total Spent: 1,198b ($36.83 USD)


Breakfast: 180b ($5.53)

Tuk Tuk to the Black House: 300b ($9.22)

Pizza Company: 468b ($14.39)

BBQ Dinner at the Night Bazaar: 115b ($3.54)

Water: 14b ($0.43)

Ice Cream: 100b ($3.07)

Accommodation: 250b ($7.69)

4/6 Total Spent: 1,427b ($43.87 USD)

Sak Yant – Getting Tattooed by a Monk

About 30 miles west of Bangkok lies a Buddhist temple called Wat Bang Phra.  It is home to Master Luang Pi Nunn, one of the most well-known tattooing monks in Thailand.

Every single day, people gather at Wat Bang Phra to receive their Sak Yant tattoos from Luang Pi Nunn.  Sak Yant is a form of tattooing that originated in Cambodia, but has spread to other countries of Southeast Asia, including Thailand.  Traditionally, a long, sharpened bamboo stick is dipped in ink, then tapped into the skin repeatedly to produce an image of blessings and ancient, sacred geometric designs.  The monk then blows into the tattoo, whispers a prayer, then blows into it again.  It is believed that this process gives the tattoo magical powers that protect or bless the wearer in various ways, depending on the design in question.

The secret recipe of the ink used for the tattoo is only truly known by the individual monk, who makes it himself.  Depending on who you talk to or what article you’re reading, it’s believed to contain some combination of herbs, ashes, Chinese charcoal, palm oil, and snake venom…!

To top it all off, there is usually no discussion about the design or placement of the tattoo you are going to receive beforehand.  The monk decides the design and location based on your aura and what he believes will benefit you most; and you’ll find out what it looks like after it’s been permanently transcribed on your skin.


After hearing about it and doing a ton of research online about the origin, symbolism, process, and safety of receiving a Sak Yant, we knew we wanted this to be a part of our trip to Thailand.  Note: You can get Sak Yant designs at pretty much any tattoo shop in Thailand, but we wanted the real thing.  We wanted it chosen and blessed by a true master.

Getting to Wat Bang Phra from Bangkok was the most challenging and stressful part of the entire event.  We woke up at 4:15am, got our stuff together, and dropped it off at the front desk of our hotel to hold for us (because we were checking out that day.)  We needed to get to Victory Monument, where the buses leave for Nakhon Pathom province.  We left early in the morning because we had read that sometimes there are so many people lined up to receive their Sak Yants that many people aren’t able to receive theirs and have to come back another day.  Also, the sanitation situation is…not quite up to Western standards…so we wanted fewer people getting tattooed ahead of us.

We decided the best way to get there would be by tuk tuk, so we found one and bargained him down to 100B for the ride.  Once we got to Victory Monument, though, we had no idea where the actual bus stop/station was.  We walked around the area until we spotted some minibuses.  We walked up to the little podium thing and helplessly asked for Nakhom Pathom, until the woman finally understood us and pointed us in the right direction.  We evidently weren’t in the right spot, so we had to keep walking further around the monument, somewhat aimlessly, until we asked someone for help again.  This time we were pointed just a little further down the street to another group of minibuses.  “Nakhon Pathom?” we asked.  The man nodded, so we specified that we needed to go to Nakhon Chaisi, the town where the temple is located.  With the help of a Thai girl on the bus that graciously stepped in and translated for us, we were on the bus and on our way to Nakhon Chaisi at about 5:30am.

After 45 minutes or so, the bus stopped in what seemed like the middle of nowhere.  The bus driver motioned for us to get off, and pointed across the road to a couple of guys sitting next to their motorbikes across the road that started waving at us when we got off of the bus.  We had to walk across a bridge to get to the other side of the road, and they offered us rides for 100B each.  We probably could have gotten a discount if we had requested to share a bike, but we were tired and we wanted to just get there, so we didn’t argue.

The ride was about 20 or 25 minutes and it was amazing.  We raced down the road just as the sun was coming up over the fields and jungles, and that’s when we really got excited about what we were about to experience.

Finally, we pulled into Wat Bang Phra and paid our moto drivers.  We walked toward the entrance, but the gates were closed.  Despite getting up so early, there were still several Thai men there waiting already!  They nodded and smiled at us when we approached and told us that we had to wait for the temple to open.

We finally made it to Wat Bang Phra! (No photos were allowed inside the temple, but the outside was pretty, too.)

Since we hadn’t eaten anything that morning, we decided to walk over to the little stand back by the road to get a snack.  It was pretty slim pickings, so we settled for some curbside instant-Ramen before making our way back to the line.

When we got back, there were a few more people than before, but there were still only 6 people total ahead of us.  There was also a woman selling temple offerings, which must be purchased by any person that wants to receive Sak Yant.  The temple offerings cost us 75B each, and included a stem of orchids, a pack of incense sticks, and…a pack of menthol cigarettes.  These items serve as the ‘cost’ of the tattoo and are presented to the monk as a gift.

We didn’t have to wait long before the gates were opened at about 7am, and we were allowed to enter.  We all took our shoes off before entering and put them on a rack next to the gate.  We then walked into the temple, past several large Buddha statues, and into a room about the size of a typical classroom, adorned with more statues and photos of senior monks on the walls.  As soon as the people ahead of us entered the room, they got down on their knees and crawled to their space in line.   There was also a large golden bowl in middle of the room, where we saw them place their offerings, so we did the same.  There were also pink envelopes in a basket for people to put donations in.  We had read about that part online, so we knew that we were supposed to put a donation in the envelope (we opted for 100 Baht each) and present it to the monk after being tattooed.

People slowly trickled in as we waited for the monk.  We had read stories online of the room being completely packed, but this wasn’t the case for us.  We speculated that maybe it was because it was a Saturday morning?  But we weren’t sure.  All in all, there were no more than 20 people in the room when Luang Pi Nunn finally made his appearance half an hour later.  

When he walked in, everyone fell silent and bowed as he passed.  His face showed nothing and his robes were stained with ink.  In complete silence, he spent about 10 minutes adjusting his light and getting his workplace ready.  Then he pulled out a…. wait, what’s that?  Is that a tattoo GUN?!

We looked at each other, startled in confusion.  What about the traditional method and the bamboo stick and stuff???  That’s what we came here for!  We later admitted to each other that we both almost backed out when we saw that tattoo gun, but we’re really, really glad that we didn’t.  More on that, later.

Once he had all of his equipment ready and sat down, the visitors collectively crawled forward to offer the golden bowl of gifts to the monk.  We kneeled and bowed to the floor, with our hands on the backs of the people in front of us.  It was a really beautiful and special moment.

As the monk did not speak at all, the line was self congregated.  It was difficult to understand the process of determining who was to go next, but the Thai guys in front (the ones that were already waiting at the gates when we first arrived) seemed to have it under control and everyone just followed their lead.  The first one took off his shirt, kneeled in front of the monk, and bowed to the ground three times before turning around and sitting cross legged, with a triangular pillow in his lap to lean on.  He was covered in gorgeous Sak Yant tattoos; clearly he had done this many times before.  The two guys next in line each got on either side of him and held his skin taut while the Luang Pi Nunn did his thing.

The monk opened a vessel sitting next to him that apparently contained a series of stamps with the Sak Yant designs on them.  Later, we learned that it’s not the actual design on the stamp, it’s just a series of lines in order to keep the tattoo straight.  All of the symbols and designs are freehanded, with the stamp used as a guide. He pressed it onto an ink pad and then onto the man’s skin before turning on his tattoo gun and going to work on his skin.  Because we were sitting in front of the guy getting tattooed, we couldn’t see what was happening, but it took about 2 or 3 minutes before the monk was blowing on his new tattoo and chanting a prayer.  His eyes were closed and he chanted so quietly, it was all but inaudible.  When he was finished chanting, he blew into the tattoo one more time.  The guy turned around and bowed 3 more times to the monk before placing his pink envelope in the bowl next to him.  We were shocked when the guy turned around, the tattoo was perfect!  And so quick!  In fact, it looked even better than a lot of the Sak Yant tattoos we had seen online.

We watched as the line in front of us dwindled away, each tattoo taking no more than a few minutes.  Most of the people in front of us already had a lot of Sak Yant tattoos, so they were getting really cool ones.  There are a few designs that are really common for first-timers, but these were ones we were not so familiar with, which was neat to see.  There was a Thai girl in front of us who had never gotten one and was clearly very nervous!  When it was finally her turn, she shut her eyes and clenched the pillow until her knuckles turned white…it was a little unnerving, but when she was finished, she had a big smile on her face!

Finally, there was only one more guy in front of us, and it was Joe’s turn to help hold his skin tight (women are not allowed to do that part.)  He got to watch right up close as Luang Pi Nunn worked on his design!  That’s also how we found out that the stamp is just a guide, rather than a template.

Then, it was finally Joe’s turn.  He bowed three times, turned around, and the monk went to work.  I tried to gauge how painful it was by his face, but he was leaning over the pillow so I couldn’t really get a read. (Note: We both have pretty large tattoos already, but we weren’t sure if this gun/process would be any different regarding pain levels.)  It was over in no time though, and before I knew it, Joe had bowed again, placed his envelope in the bowl, and I was being beckoned to come forward.

I had prepared to reveal my back by wearing a tank top that could easily be stretched/pulled down and out of the way.  It is disrespectful for women to show their shoulders in a temple though, which I rectified by wrapping a long scarf over my chest and around my shoulders/arms.  Some of the other women wore zip up jackets backwards so that they could just unzip the back to reveal their skin, while remaining covered.  I crawled over (one should not put themselves above a monk, so it would have been disrespectful to stand while Luang Pi Nunn was sitting) and bowed three times, before turning around and awaiting my fate.

Now, monks are not allowed to touch women, but that doesn’t mean women cannot get Sak Yant tattoos.  Luang Pi Nunn used a marker (yes, a marker lol) to prod me into the right position, and instructed Joe and the other guy next to me where to hold me down.  When it came time for him to do the tattoo, he put a small piece of paper towel under his hand, so that he would not come in contact with my skin.  (Interesting fact: Many women opt to get their magic tattoos done in oil instead of ink, making them “invisible.”  Apparently they are still believed to bestow magic powers on the wearer, but many Thai women do not want the tattoo to mark them visibly, for social/cultural reasons.  The Thai women that were in the room with us did get visible ink, though.)

I braced myself, and before I knew it, the prayer was being blown into my new Sak Yant.  We had differing views on the pain level.  Joe felt that it felt the same as a regular tattoo.  However, given that he had been dealing with a relatively serious burn on his leg, we suspect his pain tolerance might have been higher than usual.  I felt that it hurt WAY worse right at the beginning (I was clutching the pillow with my eyes closed like the girl before us) but the pain decreased gradually as the tattooing went on.  By the end of mine, I was sitting relaxed with my eyes open, and could easily have sat longer if necessary.  Maybe the snake venom ink has a numbing effect or something, who knows.

We were done and out of there before 9am, anxious to get a look at our new ink!  Ready…?

Joe had received the Gao Yord, also known as the 9 Spires Yant.  It is traditionally placed at the nape of the neck and is one of the most common designs for a male first-timer.  All of the men we saw at the temple, that were covered in tattoos, all had the Gao Yord in the same spot at the top of their backs.

Freshly inked, right out of the temple.

The 9 spires are meant to represent the 9 peaks of Mount Meru, a mythological mountain and house of the Gods.  It is also said that Mount Meru represents the center of the Universe.  A small Buddha (represented by three ovals) sits on top of each peak and the squiggly lines called Unaalome (the ever-decreasing spiral) above them represent the path to enlightment, that gradually straightens out as you move toward it.  Each Buddha bestows a special power to the wearer.

About 24 hours after being tattooed.

In each square is an abbreviation for the different protection spells that will be bestowed upon the wearer.  There seems to be some debate about how many squares will be in the design and what spells will be included, but it is generally agreed that they will include good luck, fortune, power, and protection.  It is also said that the wearer is protected from black magic and evil spirits.

I received the Hah Taew or ‘5 Sacred Lines,’ which is the most-known Sak Yant design (at least, in the West) and the most common design for female first-timers, usually placed on the left shoulder blade.  Most of the Thai women in line with us were also first-timers and received the Hah Taew, as well.

Fresh Hah Taew Yant

There are different versions of the Hah Taew, but they all include 5 blessings or magical spells, usually including kindness, success, charm, good luck, and protection against evil spirits.  At the end of each line is the same Unaalome (ever-decreasing spiral) as the spires on Joe’s design, and they also represent the path toward enlightenment.  This design was also popularized when Angelina Jolie got one, so a lot of tourists apparently go to tattoo shops and just ask for one that looks the same.  (Unless you get it done and blessed by a monk though, it is not considered to hold magical powers.)

About 24 hours after being tattooed.

The wearer of a Sak Yant is supposed to follow a set of rules, but there is a lot of debate over what rules and for what length of time.  Some say there is a set of rules for all Yant bearers, some say there is a different set of rules for each design, and some say the monk himself decides the rules for each individual.  In general, the rules focus on avoiding evil deeds, including killing, stealing, and lying, etc.  Some say the rules must be followed eternally, and some say for only seven days after receiving the tattoo.  We were not given any rules by our monk.  In fact, he did not speak to anyone at all, except for the whispered prayers he blew into each of the yantras he bestowed.  We’ve decided that since receiving our tattoos, we will do our best to not commit any evil deeds, and to make a stronger commitment to spiritual growth.

I mentioned earlier that, after the fact, both of us admitted considering backing out because of the tattoo gun…but for some reason, neither of us got up to leave.  After we left the temple and had a moment to reflect and discuss, Joe put it really nicely:

“When Luang Ni Punn first began using the tattoo machine, a thought flashed through my mind and was quickly resonated by Nicole. She leaned over and whisphered, “I can’t decide if I am disappointed or relieved.” A traditional hand powered bamboo tattoo is intimidating to be sure, but also a point of excitement and pride about getting the “real” experience. I too was relieved at the familiarity of the tattoo gun, but my disappoint began to grow at the thought of being cheated out of an experience. However, before the disappoint was able to fester, I realized there was a lesson to be learned.

A portion of Buddhist philosophy revolves around the relationship between our expectations and our perceptions. Roughly put, the stronger our expectations are and the further they deviate from reality, the more suffering we are likely to endure. The escape from this sort of suffering is found in awareness of acceptance of any present situation as it is, unmuddied by our desires or expectations of it.

I don’t think the master sak yant monk intended to teach us a lesson with the machine, but I believe we learned one nonetheless. The Sak Yant is not about requesting a desired tattoo, nor even an exchange of expected services. Rather, it is about humbly offering your sacrifice and yourself to a monk and, in turn, the monk offering the gift of his blessing in the form of the sak of his choosing (which choice I now realize includes not only the symbol, but the method of application as well.)

The above reflections and tranquil atmosphere of the temple prompted me to quickly dump my expectations and disappointment in order to fully immerse myself in the truly real and unique experience of that particular morning at Wat Bang Phra.”

In summary, despite our initial doubts/disappointments, we both realized our error quite simultaneously, and decided to go on with the tattoos.  Receiving a Sak Yant is a very sacred and spiritual experience, and if a tattoo gun was Luang Pi Nunn’s preferred method of giving them, that’s what we wanted.  Being humbled by our own fallacies only made the experience that much more meaningful, and perhaps our magic tattoos will help us remember that lesson.

How much we spent on Sak Yant tattoos, including travel to and from Wat Bang Phra:

Tuk Tuk from Khao San Road to Victory Monument: 100B ($3.08)

Minibus to Nakhom Chaisi: 140B ($4.32)

Moto Taxi (2): 200B ($6.17)

Offerings (2): 150B ($4.62)

Donations (2): 200B ($6.17)

Bus to Bangkok: 40B ($1.23)

Bus to Bang Khae: 70B ($2.16)

Taxi to Khao San Road: 160B ($4.93)

 Total Spent: 1,060THB = $32.68 USD ($16.34/each)

Koh Lanta – Beaches, Monkeys, and Another Motorbike Accident

The journey from Koh Phangan to Koh Lanta was a long one.  We were picked up from our bungalow on Haad Rin at 6am and taken to the ferry pier where we got on a boat to Surat Thani, back on mainland.  Several hours later, we landed in Surat Thani and boarded a bus to the bus stop in Krabi.  Then, we had to take another bus to Koh Lanta which included a trip across the water on a car ferry!  Finally, we had found ourselves on Koh Lanta, sometime in the late afternoon.

KP to KL
The circled island toward the top is Koh Phangan, the pin is Koh Lanta. We had to take a boat from Koh Phangan to mainland, drive across to Krabi, then take a bus/car ferry over to Koh Lanta.

The bus dropped us off in the heart of Phra Ae Beach (also known as Long Beach) where we found a nice little 300 Baht bungalow a short walk from the beach, with a balcony and shared bathrooms. We had made it just in time to catch an amazing sunset and enjoy a dinner on the beach.  After a long day of traveling, we went back to the bungalow and crashed pretty early.

Joe on Long Beach, Koh Lanta
Amazing sunset on Long Beach


The next day, we let ourselves be infiltrated by the chilled out, paradise atmosphere of Koh Lanta.  We also finally gave into the desire for a spa treatment and got Thai massages right on the beach.  They were surprisingly painful, but therapeutic in their own way.  After an hour underneath the weight of a small Thai woman, we were ready for some beach bumming.

Long Beach by day. It never got more crowded than this!

The beach was beautiful and not terribly crowded.  It was almost unbearably hot though, so most of the people were bunched together under the palm trees trying to get some relief under the shade.

Neverending sunshine.

That night, we decided to have a few drinks at a treehouse bar/hostel called Chill Out.  There are multiple levels where people can climb around and have a few drinks.  They closed at 11, though and everyone was moving to the party at a beach bar called Ozone.  We decided to join, and met some people from England that we hung out with for the night.

Some cool black light art at Chill Out
The beach party at Ozone


The next day we were super hungover and did nothing, so we’ll just move onto the day after that.  We decided to explore some other parts of Koh Lanta by motorbike.  We rode down the entire west coast to a beach called Klong Jark.  It was practically deserted, and we spent a couple of hours sipping fruit shakes on the beach, listening to reggae.

Complete desertion on Klong Jark
Seriously! No one else was there.
Enjoying a couple of fruit shakes

Next, we decided to check out the National Park at the very southern end of Koh Lanta.  We paid the entrance fee and parked the moto to explore.  The park is full of unbelievable views, including an old lighthouse that visitors are able to walk up to (but not actually inside.)

Mu Ko Lanta National Park
The lighthouse!
Awesome view while making our way up to the lighthouse
Almost there..
Joe at the top of the hill
And a beautiful view of the bay below
Another shot of the lighthouse in all its glory.

We walked onward and became hypnotized by all of the adorable monkeys!

This picture isn’t so great, but these ones were kind of creepy looking. They almost looked like some type of lemur, maybe.
Then we found a bunch of babies running around and teasing each other!


One of the mothers came right up close to us and started nursing, it was really special. 🙂


After getting our fill of the stunning plant and animal life of Koh Lanta, we decided to make our way back to Long Beach.  Our perfect day got a little ugly here, due to another small motorbike accident.  The bike got only a few small scratches, but Joe wasn’t quite so lucky…

Luckily the guy we rented the moto from didn’t seem to notice the scratches and we didn’t have to pay any extra fees.  We did, however, have to spend a few bucks on medical supplies…

Burn from the exhaust pipe…(he saved the bike from falling, though!)

Minus the very end, our time on Koh Lanta was all smiles and one of our favorite beaches in Thailand.  Despite its beauty, Koh Lanta is not nearly as overpopulated as many of the nearby islands, which only made it a more pleasurable destination, in our eyes!  Everyone was very friendly and the prices were cheaper than most of the other islands, as well–always a plus!


Snacks: 50B ($1.54)

Water: 20B ($0.62)

Taxi/Boat/Bus to Krabi: 1400B ($43.13)

Sandwich: 60B ($1.85)

Boat to Koh Lanta: 700B ($21.56)

Lunch in Krabi: 225B ($6.93)

Water: 15B ($0.46)

Dinner: 510B ($15.71)

Water: 15B ($0.46)

Accommodation: 300B ($9.24)

3/25 Total Spending: 3,295B ($101.51 USD)


Breakfast: 120B ($3.70)

Water (2): 30B ($0.92)

Thai Massages:  600B ($18.48)

Dinner: 130B ($4.00)

Ice Cream: 20B ($0.62)

Chill Out House (Beers): 440B ($13.55)

Candy Bar: 25B ($0.77)

Ozone Beach Party (Beers): 460B ($14.17)

Accommodation: 300B ($9.24)

3/26 Total Spending: 2,125B ($65.46 USD)


Chips (2): 110B ($3.39)

Water (2): 30B ($0.92)

Ice Cream: 40B ($1.23)

Lunch: 50B ($1.54)

Lemon Shake: 35B ($1.08)

Water/Electrolytes: 23B ($0.71)

Dinner: 290B ($8.93)

Accommodation: 300B ($9.24)

3/27 Total Spending: 878B ($27.05 USD)


Breakfast: 120B ($3.70)

Moto Rental: 200B ($6.16)

Gasoline: 160B ($4.93)

Water: 30B ($0.92)

National Park Entrance (2): 420B ($12.94)

Pad Thai (2): 100B ($3.08)

Chips/Ice Cream: 75B ($2.31)

Bandages: 85B ($2.62)

Water: 15B ($0.46)

Accommodation: 300B ($9.24)

3/28 Total Spending: 1,505B ($46.36 USD)

The Gulf Islands – Serenity and Scuba Diving

After a bewildering visit to the Angkor complex, officially ending our journey through Cambodia, we were off to the capital of Thailand: Bangkok!

While in Siem Reap, we booked a bus that would take us to the border, meet us on the other side, then take us on to the capital.  We were surprised at how expensive the tickets were at $28 each.  That is pretty astronomical in comparison to the rest of the buses we had been taking thus far, and a little depressing.

We were picked up in the morning by a tuk tuk that took us to the bus station.  Once we saw our bus, we realized why it had been so expensive.  This bus was jazzy.  Upholstered, clean, unbroken seats…air conditioning…no one sitting/laying in the aisles…all the things you’d hope for in a bus.  We didn’t even have to share seats!!  I don’t even know how long the bus ride was; it was so comfortable we literally slept the entire time.  It was awesome.  This bus was almost a culture shock for us, and really revealed how different transportation and the tourism infrastructure was going to be in Thailand.

Since we had already gotten our Thai visas back in Phnom Penh, the border crossing was a breeze.  We weren’t even asked to pay stamping fees (a common scam that we did have to pay at every other border crossing.)  We got stamped out of Cambodia and stamped into Thailand in no time, and we were back on the bus.

We spent two days in Bangkok before heading down south, but I’m going to give Bangkok it’s own separate post at a later date.  Instead, we’ll start with the journey from Bangkok to Koh Tao.

We got our tickets to Koh Tao at Lomprayah, a transportation company whose headquarters were located near our guesthouse in Bangkok.  For 2200 Baht ($67.66) we got tickets including a bus down to Chumphon and a ferry transfer to the island of Koh Tao.  We did the research and didn’t find any evidence that this price was out of the ordinary…but just like the bus from Siem Reap to Bangkok, the difference between this and the transportation costs that we were used to was kind of a bummer.  But we were on our way to paradise, so we focused on that instead.

Thai Islands
The Gulf Islands!

We had to be at Lomprayah at 6am.  When we got there, there were a ton of other backpackers standing outside waiting for the bus.  When it finally came, the sun was up and we all piled on.  It was a really nice bus, just like the one from Siem Reap, but this time we were seated in front of a backpacker couple who would not let us recline our seats.  “There isn’t enough room,” they insisted.  Never mind that they had their seats reclined all the way back; they seemed appalled that we would desire the same.  On 6 hours of sleep, we were pretty cranky that we were being heavily pressured to sacrifice the little comfort we paid for to this duo, but alas, we spent the next 7 or so sleepless hours sitting completely upright with the people in front of us reclined in our laps.

When we finally got to Chumphon, we were pointed toward the ferry pier.   We exchanged our tickets and got on the ferry to Koh Tao.  The ferry was huge and super nice!  The ride was extremely smooth as well, and took about 2 hours.

We were dropped off at the pier on Mae Haad Beach on the west side of the island, which was conveniently one of the cheaper areas to stay.  Continuing north from Mae Haad is Sairee Beach, the most developed and most popular part of the island for partying backpackers.  We settled for a place in northern Mae Haad called Mr. J’s Bungalows.  It was nice because we could easily access both Mae Haad and Sairee depending on what we wanted to do.

By the time we had our room settled, it was late afternoon.  We spent some time on the beach before splurging a little bit on a nice dinner at a place up in Sairee called The Gallery.  We ordered the Massaman curry and a crispy pork dish, both of which were excellent.  The service was really good too (another thing we weren’t used to) and the restaurant was attached to a gallery of beautiful photographs of the island that we were invited to walk through.

Lovely sunset on Koh Tao

The next morning we had to get up a little early because we were going diving!  Since it had been about a year for both of us, we had to sign up for a refresher course before we could go on fun dives.  Koh Tao is most known for its scuba diving industry and more scuba certifications are issued here than anywhere else in the world.  Because of this, there are an endless number of dive shops on the island making the prices really competitive.  It’s one of the cheapest places to dive on earth.  After doing some research on dive shops, we decided to go with Master Divers down in Mae Haad.  It had pretty spotless reviews and was well known for its professional staff and commitment to safety standards.

We reported to Master Divers at 9am where we met our Divemaster, an Irish veterinarian named Heather, that went over all of the basics of diving with us.  After a short written exam and going over all of the equipment, we were given a break before we had to meet at 11:45 for our skills test.  We loaded our equipment onto the boat and drove out to a dive site called Japanese Gardens.  We geared up, jumped in the water, and swam out to a shallow spot to complete the skills test which included things like taking off our gear and putting it back on while underwater, swimming and buoyancy tests, etc.  Both of us passed it painlessly and once we had it out of the way, we got back on the boat for a surface interval and changed out tanks before jumping back in for a fun dive.

We don’t have an underwater camera and they charged like 1400 Baht to rent one at the shop so we decided we’d settle for just memories.  The dive site was lovely and we saw lots of different coral structures, angelfish, butterflyfish, nudibranchs, and other creatures.  Our favorite was the adult and baby clownfish!  The baby was no bigger than a dime!  Heather told us they were the only clownfish at any dive site near Koh Tao.

Joe and our divemaster, Heather on the boat.

A full day of diving had us starving so we kinda splurged again on dinner at a restaurant on the beach called Whitening.  To be fair, all of the restaurants of Koh Tao seemed to be pretty expensive.  Plus, we hadn’t eaten much else that day.  They had excellent shellfish at Whitening and it was definitely worth it!

The next day we did two more fun dives and this time some of the DMTs (Divemasters in Training) came along and were chatting with us about their experiences learning to become divemasters.  This time we went to two different dive sites called White Rock and The Twins.  Both were beautiful, though the visibility wasn’t quite as good as it had been the day before.  However, in addition to a lot of the same animals we had seen at Japanese Gardens, we also saw a couple of Blue-Spotted Stingrays and a a huge Hawksbill Sea Turtle!  There were also hundreds of colorful Christmas Tree Worms that would disappear into their holes when we waved our hands near them.


This time we were a little more conservative on dinner and ate at a restaurant/hostel called Taco Shack for some cheapie Mexican food.  They also had markers available to write/draw on the walls, so we entertained ourselves with that for quite a while!

We had been on the fence about whether or not to move on from Koh Tao the next day, but we just couldn’t resist one more day of diving.  For $30 a dive with everything included, it’s hard to say no!

We were really glad we decided to stay that extra day because we got to see seahorses!  They were big ones too, about 6 inches long!  One of them was just hanging out with its tail coiled around a metal rod on the seafloor, but one of them was ‘swimming’ along the bottom.  It sort of looked like it was half dead and dragging itself along, but apparently that is just how they move.  One of them had a big pregnant belly too, which was cool to see!

After three days of awesome diving on Koh Tao, it was time to move on.  We booked a ferry to a neighboring island called Koh Phangan, most famous for its (literally) deadly Full Moon Parties every month.  It’s known as the biggest beach party in the world, sometimes luring some 30,000 backpackers on the beach at once.  Unfortunately, there have been accidents and even deaths in the past due to lax security and high risk behavior.  Drugging and theft is also really common; you can find all kinds of horror stories on the internet.  The Full Moon Parties are so legendary that most backpackers plan their trip around the date of the full moon so that they can go and experience it.

We did not do this.

Had it been convenient for us to go to a Full Moon Party we most likely would have, but we just didn’t see it as being important enough to plan our entire trip around.

The ferry picked us up from the Mae Haad pier and dropped us off about an hour later in Thong Sala on Koh Phangan.  We had done a lot of research on the beaches of Koh Phangan and they all seemed to be highly recommended.  A friend recommended Haad Yuan and the online reviews seemed very positive, so that’s where we went!

It was kind of a pain to get there, though.  Firstly, as soon as we got of the pier we were hounded by taxi and moto drivers.  We noticed a lot of people from the ferry were ignoring these and continuing down the road, so we just sort of followed, hoping they knew something we didn’t.  It turned out that there was a bus corral a few minutes down the road offering rides to Haad Rin for 100 Baht each, much cheaper than what the taxis were offering, so we paid one and got in.

Haad Rin is the beach where the Full Moon Party takes place.  Although many people only come to Koh Phangan for this party (and thus, only visit Haad Rin) there are actually a lot of beaches on Koh Phangan offering a lot more than just wild parties.  Once we got to Haad Rin, we had to take a taxi boat to get to Haad Yuan, because it is inaccessible by car.  The downside of this is that they were really expensive, at 300 Baht each.

The waters were a little choppy and the longboat ride was mildly terrifying, but once we caught a glimpse of Haad Yuan we forgot about it all.  From the sea, we saw a small cove of white sand with big rocks on either side.  We actually ended up in a bungalow on the rocks, accessible by a reasonably secure wooden bridge.

There isn’t a whole lot to do in Haad Yuan, and that is precisely the point.

Haad Yuan


The number one activity on Haad Yuan
…only made better with a Chang Beer, of course!

We laid in our hammocks.  We laid on the beach.  We laid around in the handful of bars and restaurants on the beach.  A couple of the bars were decked out in psychedelic tapestries and played Deep House music into the night, it was paradise.

The view from our bungalow up on the rocks
The wooden steps leading up to our bungalow
Hammock time looking over the cove




We spent two days in Haad Yuan before returning to Haad Rin for one night.  To its credit, Haad Rin is a beautiful beach, and because we weren’t there during a full moon, it was pretty peaceful.  The soft white sand looked pretty cared for as well, so there must be some serious clean ups after those parties every month.  The town was pretty dead; a travel agent in town told us that they are only busy for 5 days a month, surrounding the full moon.  That was fine by us though, it was peaceful and we got a great deal on a bungalow.

The town in Haad Rin is full of tourist shops and restaurants
We didn’t make the party but we saw the sign…close enough.
Haad Rin beach
We saw a thing floating in the water while we were walking down the beach…we got closer and it ended up being some kind of pufferfish.
It was dead, though. 😦

Haad Rin concluded our time in the Gulf Islands before moving on to Krabi Province!  We had a blast!


Bus/Ferry: 2200THB

Chips: 25THB

Coke: 30THB

Sandwich: 90THB

Kebab: 90THB

Beer: 30THB

Pancake: 35THB

Dinner at The Gallery: 540THB

Flip flops: 80THB

Mr. J’s Bungalows: 500THB

3/18 Total Spending: 3,620THB ($111.27 USD)


Muesli: 140 THB

Snacks: 88THB

Diving (Refresher Course + 1 Fun Dive): 5000THB

Dinner at Whitening: 560THB

Pancake: 40THB

Water: 20THB

Mr. J’s Bungalows: 500 THB

Total Spending 3/19: 6,348 THB ($195.12 USD)


Muesli: 140THB

2 Fun Dives: 4000THB

Taco Shack: 360THB

Pancake: 40THB

Water: 20THB

Mr. J’s Bungalows: 500THB

3/20 Total Spending: 5,060THB ($155.53 USD)


Breakfast: 120THB

2 Fun Dives: 3000THB

Dinner: 230THB

Pancake: 40THB

Water: 20THB

Mr. J’s Bungalows: 500THB

3/21 Total Spending: 3,910THB ($120.18 USD)


Pancake: 35THB

Ferry to Koh Tao: 1000THB

Taxi: 200THB

Longboat: 600THB

Lunch: 360THB

Water: 30THB

Eden Bar: 150THB

Water: 30THB

Ocean Rock Bungalows: 650THB

3/22 Total Spending: 3,055THB ($93.90USD)


Breakfast: Free!

4 Beach Beers: 360 THB

Lunch: 270THB

Dinner: 360THB

Water: 30THB

Ocean Rock Bungalows: 650THB

3/23 Total Spending: 1,670THB ($51.33 USD)


Breakfast: Free!

Taxi Boat: 600THB

Water: 30THB

Lunch: 420 THB

Water: 25THB

Ice Cream: 45THB

Swimsuit: 250THB

Dinner: 380THB

Shorts: 230THB

Water: 20THB

Accommodation: 300THB

3/24 Total Spending: 2,300THB ($70.70 USD)