This week, we’re thrilled to share Katie Hensrud’s story from her recent trip to Thailand, one of our favourite travel destinations. In the past we’ve shared travel stories from fellow travel bloggers, but Katie is not a full time traveler, expat, blogger or seasoned traveler. She’s actually my colleague and works beside me at my corporate 9-5 job. I’ve enjoyed listening to her stories so I thought it would be fun to have her share her story with you.
Reflections from my first group tour to Thailand
As a young twenty-something professional, I’ve racked up a significant amount of overtime over the past year that gave me the opportunity to take a rare three weeks of straight vacation.
While my initial idea was to jet off to Europe, I decided that, having already visited there a few years ago, it might be fun to consider another destination. South East Asia was my next choice.
I’ve wanted to visit Thailand ever since watching the movie The Beach, and even though Leonardo Dicaprio wouldn’t be by my side, the prospect of such an affordable destination made it quite appealing.
My travel plans originally included traveling to Thailand with a friend and backpacking on our own for three weeks. Unfortunately she had to cancel her travel plans, forcing me to reconsider my plans too.
As a young female, I wasn’t comfortable backpacking around Thailand solo.
That’s when I began researching group tours. I read a lot of positive feedback from different people so I decided to keep the trip alive and book a group tour to Thailand instead. I went with Free & Easy Traveler, a Canadian company that organizes tours around the world for people in their twenties.
One of the deciding factors was the fact the company would organize everything, including flights. For someone who has accidentally booked her own flights on the wrong days in the past, this was a huge bonus!
When I boarded my flight to Thailand I was nervous… not about flying, but about the prospect of meeting my fellow travelers.
Even though I generally enjoy the company of most people, my greatest fear was that the group would turn out to be a bunch of oddballs. Luckily this worry vanished as soon as I hit Thai soil. My travel companions, and soon to be good friends, turned out to be a hilarious and adventurous group of people.
The tour started in Bangkok and took me to southern Thailand. We visited Koh Phangan, Khao Sok National Park, Koh Phi Phi and Railay.
I’m not big on planning and, to be honest, I didn’t do much research on any of the destinations before I left, so having all of the transportation and activities arranged through the tour company made my life a lot easier. And they certainly didn’t disappoint.
Floating bungalows in Khao Sok National Park
Each destination we visited was beautiful and offered its own unique scenery and activities; however, Khao Sok National Park was definitely the highlight for me.
We travelled by long boat to a secluded spot on a lake surrounded by rainforest and stayed on floating bungalows for a couple days. The bungalows are run by the sweetest Thai family who welcomed us as their own. Most of our time was spent floating in the warm lake while enjoying a couple Chang Beers, taking in the beautiful views of the surrounding cliffs and rainforest.
The opportunity to completely unplug from technology turned out to be very rewarding and it was the most relaxed that I’ve felt for as I can remember.
Bungee jumping in Koh Samui
I’m not sure if it was the peer pressure from my travel mates or the fact that I felt like I was getting a bargain, but for the equivalent of about $50 Canadian, I somehow found myself bungee jumping in Koh Samui on this group tour to Thailand.
I’m the furthest thing from a daredevil and it’s no exaggeration that I was almost in tears when I was getting strapped in. Nonetheless, it was by far one of the most terrifying and most adrenaline inducing experiences that I have ever had.
I couldn’t possibly write about the highlights of my trip without including the boat trip out to Maya Bay, the location used for the movie “The Beach”. While all of the beaches we visited in Thailand were beautiful, it’s obvious why Maya Bay was chosen as the film backdrop. It is simply spectacular, enough said.
Read more – 22 Beaches to Take Your Mind Off Winter
Hiking in Koh Phi Phi
Before the trip, I imagined most of my days would be spent lazing around on the beach. While most days did involve some beach time, a number of them often involved hiking. The 40+ degree heat made it easy to want stick by the beach or pool, however whenever we arrived at the top of a mountain SOAKED in sweat, we knew it was worth it.
The hike in Koh Phi Phi made me realize the devastation caused by the tsunami in 2004. At the top of the viewpoint is a picture of the island before the tsunami hit. The difference from before and after is remarkable.
The above photo was taken from Pee Pee viewpoint on Koh Phi Phi.
Yummy Thai Food
I made a promise to myself that I would stick to western food because I didn’t want to get sick. This promise went out the window the second day into the trip when discovered just how deliciously irresistible Thai food is. I was surprised by how large Thai menus are. They offer way more options than you would ever find on any menu at home in Canada.
On multiple occasions I found myself stuck between two items and, since they were so inexpensive, I just ordered both! That being said, I did make an effort to avoid some of the sketchier looking street meat stand.
Lessons learn from my first trip to Thailand
(1) When someone gives you a mosquito net, use it!
I’m not going to sugar coat this. Thailand is full of bugs, ants, mosquitoes, and cockroaches. Along the way, we stayed in a few guest houses that were not sealed from the outside. Thank goodness for mosquito nets because this meant I had many bugs for roommates.
A few of my travel companions chose to forgo the nets one night and woke up with more mosquito bites than we could count… it was not pretty. I was particularly pleased with the fact that the nets doubled as a barricade for cockroaches and spiders.
That said, I did get used to seeing all the bugs and after a while they didn’t bother me… that much.
(2) Traffic & tuk tuks are crazy
The simple tasks of crossing an intersection or riding a tuk tuk proved to be an adventure on its own. Traffic in Bangkok is insane and cars do not stop at marked crosswalks (a big culture shock when compared to Canada). Needless to say, I would let someone else lead the charge when it came to crossing the street.
Tuk tuks were another story and, while I found them to be thrilling, I often found myself having to close my eyes as the driver would weave in and out of traffic.
(3) Embrace Thai Time
Some my fondest memories from this trip were the simple day to day interactions I had with Thai people. It was so rewarding to experience the Thai culture. For the most part, everywhere we went we felt welcomed by the good humoured Thai people.
It took me a while to realize that Thai people have a different concept of time and never feel the need to be rushed. Otherwise known as “Thai Time”. However, by the end of the trip I learned to appreciate their laid back attitudes. Hopefully I can bring some of that back to the hustle and bustle of Vancouver, though that’s easier said than done.
Whether it was bungee jumping, battling bugs or visiting temples, my 20 days in Thailand was a big step out of my comfort zone; one that has left me eager to continue exploring and trying new things.
I am grateful that I chose to travel with a tour group. Having my accommodations and travel plans organized removed the stress from the trip and allowed me to enjoy every minute. Our tour leaders introduced us to many things I likely wouldn’t have found without them.
I forged some great new friendships and now I have an excuse to go on another adventure to visit them!
Big thanks to Katie for sharing her travel story! If you’re looking to join a group tour, we recommend G Adventures. Here is a link to receive Up to 25% Off Adventure Travel Deals.