Our trip through Thailand starts in Bangkok, where we, like the real Dutch girls we are, go for a cycling tour by Co van Kessel. After a couple of days in Bangkok, we travel on to Kanchanaburi, followed by Ayyuthaya and Sukhothai, the later two being more up north.

In Kanchanaburi we enjoy the waterfalls of the beautiful Erawan park, where we go for a cooling swim. We left to see the park early in the morning, in order to beat the heat and the crowds. The crowds we beat indeed, and so I get to enjoy the clear blue water of the waterfall at level five all by myself. In the meanwhile, Julia climbs on to the biggest waterfall at level 7. As I’m watching the fish that try jumping up against the current, I ask myself whether I should’ve gone up to the 7th waterfall as well, but I realise quite quickly that I couldn’t care less about the fall at the top. The hike wasn’t tough, I didn’t feel tired, the heat was doable. However, I honestly felt like taking a moment for myself; going for a quiet swim in a paradise like surrounding. For the first time, I realise that I am travelling solemnly for myself; meaning I can do whatever I wish to do, go wherever I wish to go. Moreover, it means I don’t need to do anything I wouldn’t want to do, and there’s no need to live up to other peoples expectations. Or well, my perception of other peoples expectations. If I had gone to the waterfall at the top, it would’ve been because I’d be afraid others would otherwise perceive me as a quitter, lazy, or a weak person. As Julia returns she enthusiastically shows me her photos. Proudly I notice, I am still happy with the decision I made. The waterfall is pretty, but I don’t feel like I missed out on anything. In fact, the opposite is true. If I had gone to the 7th layer, I would have missed out on this very much appreciated moment for myself, at this gorgeous and peaceful waterfall of level 5.

Ayutthaya will me remembered for its amazing smoothies (if you ever find yourself out here, go look for Boommy Smoothies). Sukhothai we loved because of her beautiful temples, pagodas, and ruins, all of which lay in a beautifully maintained UNESCO park.

A tuk tuk, bus, tuk tuk, train, and another tuk tuk later, we reach Chiang Mai, the most northern destination of our Thailand trip. Chiang Mai isn’t a city of MUST-SEE. It has approximately one regularly sight-seen building, being the temple on top of mount Doi Suthep; it is covered in gold, and only reachable by climbing up the 206 steps. It’s pretty,  but after all the beauty we’ve seen in Myanmar, it certainly isn’t a highlight anymore. The view from Doi Suthep over Chiang Mai does make the climb up worth it for sure! So basically, Chiang Mai isn’t a place of MUST-SEE, but it sure is a place of MUST-DO! After working our way through dozens of folders, we decide on a day of cuddling with elephants, a Thai cooking class, a day of quad riding through the mountains, and a day of slipping-sliding-climbing in a gigantic waterpark!

One can’t visit the North of Thailand without visiting elephants. Anyone returning from Thailand is a proud owner of those crazy hippies trousers with a wild print: and wherever they bought these, I can assure you, the print includes elephants. Elephants are just iconic out here, though even if they weren’t, I’d still take this opportunity to go see these beautiful animals up close! We chose to spend a day at the Into The Wild – Elephant camp, a camp at which three rescued elephants roam freely, after being saved from tourist attractions including elephant riding. However much fun riding an elephants back might be, and however big and strong elephants seem, riding their backs is just not good for them. Thus, as we were choosing the right sanctuary to visit, we payed close attention to the ethics behind the place, reading many reviews about how the elephants were being treated in the process. Once we arrived at the Into the Wild camp, we are explained were the elephants have been rescued from, and the importance of tourists visiting places like this; sending their money to places using it for rescuing more elephants. That the elephants at into the wild are enjoying themselves is no question: combined, the three rescued elephants have given birth to two baby elephants! The youngest being only 4 months old at the time of our visit. The elephants seem to go walk and stand wherever they please. Smart as they are, they know the routine by heart: as soon as they see us walking to the banana shed, they show up in front of the door within a heartbeat. After all the bananas are finished, they know they’re free to explore the jungle to find themselves some more edibles. We follow them to learn about what they eat and how they eat it. We hang around the jungle for a while until the elephants decide they’ve pushed over enough trees for the day, and head back out of the jungle.

After our own lunch, we learn how to help the elephants stay healthy by making medicine out of natural ingredients. The best part, we get to feed this to them as well. Since they can’t hold the medicine balls with their trunk, we’re supposed to aim the ball straight into their mouths. Quite intimidating since they literally, have a really big mouth. Next, it is time for mudding: the mud protects them from the sun as well as from crazy insects. The little elephant seems to dislike all the muddy mess and watches us from a small distance. Even though I am sad that the sweet little thing doesn’t join us in the mud, I am extremely happy that no one forces her to join. After mudding, it’s time to get rid of the big clumps in the river. Elephants are seriously big and impressive, but ever so much when they swim next to you, having no idea where they will kick their legs. Luckily, all of us get out without being squeezed. Before we know, our day of making elefriends is over already.

Another real local experience is exploring the tastes of the Thai kitchen; or even better, learning how to make all those delicious meals. (Though I kind of cheated with the spicy stuff, because thanks no thanks I prefer keeping everything that tastes like fire outside of my mouth). Proudly, I learn to make my favourite meal; Stir fried chicken with cashew. It’s even easier than I thought, just some veggies, chicken, fishsauce, a little (little little) spicy stuff, a couple of cashews, and oh! a couple spoons of sugar. For real, anything and everything out here, food and drink, has sugar in it. And not just a little. I love sweet but this.. A healthy fruit juice? Contains at least halve a cup of dissolved sugar. Bread? They make it so sweet you won’t need any spreads. Chocolate? They probably took out halve of the cacao and replaced it with sugar. And thus, every dish contains a spoon or two of sugar as well. Anyway, learning how to make my favourite dishes was exciting. Should be a nice variation to pasta, pasta and pasta during my time at uni.

The day following, we enjoyed the lovely nature that Chiang Mai has to offer, whilst riding a quad (or ATV, or whatever you want to call these badass buggies). Gassing , splashing through mudpools, crossing trunk “bridges”, and running over rocky roads, towards the top of the hill. Or well, close to the top, because half way the tour, or guide decides we have reached the end. “We could go all the way to the top if you guys want to. Just pay me an extra $5 each when I drive you back to the hostel. Don’t tell the people at the office, that’s bad for me. We’re not supposed to take the quads all the way up.” Yeah right. We go all the way to the top, and back down at the office I decide to ask what exactly was included in the tour. The nice lady tells me: all the way to the top, just like the picture in the brochure.. Obviously, we don’t end up paying the dude the extra cash, but did enjoy the view at the mountain top.

Our last day in Chiang mai was spend at the Grand Canyon! Say what? That’s in Arizona, USA?  Yeah that’s right, but Chiang Mai has a Grand Canyon too. It’s probably a little less ‘grand’, but it is an amazingly fun place to visit. This Chiang Mai Grand Canyon, has a crazy waterpark hidden inside, and we end up slipping, sliding, climbing, crashing, and swimming, for hours on end. Oh I forgot about flying! Using a big trampoline, I launch myself into the air, only a few seconds before I come crashing down, splashing into the water. Though not for long. A few hours later, I have packed my bags. Ready to fly, once again. This time, not using a trampoline but an airplane instead; heading for Vietnam. This time around, no crash landing; but safely with all wheels on Hanoi airports runway.