The Weird, Colored Temples of Chiang Rai

black house, blue temple and white temple Chiang Rai, Thailand

Most temples in Thailand are beautiful but pretty standard. Sharply pitched roofs with carved decorations, often covered in gold leaf. Inside, you take off your shoes and sit under the high arched ceiling looking at a carving of the Buddha. They’re cool, but honestly, they all started to look the same to me after the first two weeks. But then, I went north to see the three colorful temples of Chiang Rai.

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Chasing Elephants in Khao Yai National Park

Khao Yai National Park is full of animals. Despite being only three hours or so from Bangkok (or almost a full day if you go the way we did), the park is still a relatively pristine wilderness. It’s home to an astounding variety of wildlife; monkeys, lizards, snakes, hornbills, gibbons, and one of the last remaining populations of wild Asian elephants.

Do I like cool wild animals and jungles? Yes. Yes, I do very much. Sure, I could go to the zoo, (or an elephant sanctuary, which I did) but the zoo’s got nothing on seeing an animal in its natural habitat.

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How the hell do you get to Pak Chong, Thailand?

lonely motorcycle outside Pak Chong, Thailand

Pak Chong, Thailand is only about two and a half hours away from Bangkok. It’s the gateway to Khao Yai National Park, which may be one of the top national parks I’ve ever been to anywhere. The park’s one of the best places to see animals like gibbons, hornbills and wild elephants. So yeah, of course we wanted to go there during our month in Thailand.

We were up in Chiang Rai at the time, doing our research in a lovely little guesthouse. “It’s easy to get to Pak Chong” said all the blogs. Just go to the Mo Chit Bus Station in Bangkok, catch a bus and you’re there. Boom, no problem. Easy peasy, as the kids say.

It turns out there was nothing easy or peasy about it.

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Hold on to Your Butts: It’s Gucun Park, Shanghai

dinosaur totem pole

Gucun Park in Shanghai is also known as “dinosaur park.” Walk through dense forests of leafy green plants. There’s a rustling in the leaves. Something is lurking in the forests just beyond the shadows. Water ripples in your cup as heavy footsteps come closer. Then the leaves part. It’s a giant, animatronic tyrannosaurus! Also, a pterodactyl is playing the guitar. And King Kong is there too. And Iron Man.

Welcome to Gucun Park.

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An “Authentic” Hill Tribe Trek in Chiang Rai, Thailand

“Authentic.” What does that word even mean? Part of the reason we travel is to have an “authentic” experience. We want to see what the “real” locals look like. What is “authentic” daily life for the people in the countries we’re visiting?

All too often, this quest for the “authentic” is framed through centuries of backward (and often racist) stereotypes. We Westerners travel to exotic lands, expected to be greeted and delighted by foreign tribal savages, living as if they were a live-action issue of National Geographic.

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Beijing: Surprisingly Gritty and Interesting

Beijing-forbidden city from above

The thing about Beijing that struck me the most was how gritty it all was. Gritty to the point that you could taste it when you walked outside. There’s a constant layer of dust that settles in to your mouth with each breath.

I don’t say this to disparage Beijing in any way. It’s a fine city, with lots of interesting sights and interesting things.

Standing on top of the hill in Jinghshan park, behind the mighty Palace Museum, we could see the Forbidden City stretched out before us in all its ancient magnificence. The sparkling new skyscrapers of modern Beijing were all but lost in a grey haze. The buildings where we were, at least, were lower than expected. The city seemed to stretch out for miles, perhaps into infinity, before disappearing into the haze.

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Hue, Vietnam is tragically underrated.

Hue, Vietnam Citadel gate

We met a tour guide in Hoi An, Vietnam who was born and raised in the nearby city of Hue. We told him we were staying there for two nights. He frowned at us.

“Most people spend four hours in Hue,” he said. “Even a full day is too long.”

This seemed to be the sentiment of most of the fellow travelers we met in our hostel. The consensus was that Hue was fine, but really just a pit stop on the road to the bigger and better attractions of Da Nang and Hoi An. It might be the most underrated place I’ve ever been to.

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