The Roundup: Thailand Style

This post marks my last in our fourth anniversary adventure to Thailand. I love that through this blog I feel like I get to go on not one vacation, but two, as I relive the trip (and every excruciating detail) :) here on the blog. I hope that you’ve enjoyed reading about our adventures and found some helpful tips along the way.

It’s time for “The Roundup” which was a series I started last year to recap each destination in our adventures. It includes location tips, lessons learned, and things we will change on our next visit.

I’m notorious for packing too much into our vacations, however, if things don’t go exactly as planned we end up with places and experiences that get bumped to the next vacation. (Which is completely okay by me, because that means we get to go back sometime, right?) :)

For our trip to Thailand I spent an enormous amount of time researching as we were traveling half way around the world, and for the most part, everything went off without a hitch. We explored a famous National Marine Park, witnessed incredible sunsets, searched for whale sharks, pampered ourselves at the spa, checked off another bucket list item,  and found adventure on our fourth anniversary. This trip was full of fond memories, once-in-a-lifetime experiences, hilarious moments, and some spiritual enlightenment, yet (as always) there are a few things that I would change on our next trip.

The Weather

I’ve already mentioned this a few times already but Thailand was HOT! And if we weren’t by the pool or near the ocean, the heat was almost smothering. I was okay with this warm weather but my dear husband prefers it just a tad bit cooler, and while I didn’t know it at the time, one of the hottest months in Thailand is June. Oops! On our next visit to Thailand we’ll try to go in March or April to avoid the extreme heat. (So much for all of my researching, huh?!–You live and learn!)

BoPhut Resort

Andaman Sea

Now that we’ve explored the islands in the Gulf of Thailand, I’d love to spend a week on the Andaman Sea on our next visit. Back in June the coast along the Andaman Sea was soaked in the summer Monsoon, so we chose to skip this location entirely and instead stay on the sunny Gulf side. I’ve heard that the diving is incredible over on the sea, so it’s definitely on my list for “next time.” Krabi, Koh Phi Phi, and Phuket are all places on my “must-visit” list.

Koh Phi Phi, Thailand

Northern Thailand/Elephant Sanctuary

I planned, and strategized, and contemplated, and did my best to fit in a visit to the Elephant Sanctuary, but in the end we just didn’t have enough time. Looking back, we made the right choice as our trip would have felt rushed any other way, however, on our next trip, I’d love to spend a few days in Northern Thailand before heading to the sunny isles in the South.

Elephant Nature park


Our Favorites:

  • You already know this by now, but we LOVED–absolutely LOVEDour time at BoPhut Resort and Spa. I would recommend this resort to all of my friends and would love an opportunity to go back for a few days of rest and relaxation. While on Koh Samui, I’d look for more diving opportunities around this beautiful island, and I just recently learned about the local brewery and booze tour. (Sign me up!)

BoPhut Resort

  • I don’t think about Thailand without thinking about the incredible water found along its shores; I still daydream about the hypnotizing color and its hot-tub warm temperature. One of our favorite dive shops was located on the tiny island of Koh Tao, and Roctopus Dive made us feel like instant friends. They run an awesome shop, so if you’re looking to get certified in one of the most inexpensive places on Earth look no further than Roctopus Dive.

Roctopus Collage

  • Before we left for Thailand we heard all about the fantastic food–recommendations poured in about certain foods to try, and drinks to sample, and we happily indulged in as much as our bellies would hold.
    Since we’ve been home, Cody and I talk about the delicious Thai food on a weekly, and sometimes nightly, basis. Some of my favorites included the vegetable fried rice, garlic shrimp, and the spicy Green Curry, and Cody loved the Sweet and Sour Chicken, jasmine rice, and vegetable rolls.
    Luckily we have a favorite Thai restaurant here in Salt Lake to minimize our cravings, but it still doesn’t compare to the dishes that we enjoyed on the beach in Thailand. (I mean let’s be honest, everything tastes better on the beach). :)

Dinner on the Beach BoPhut Resort

What did I miss? What else should I add to our next Thailand Adventure?

A Thrill Seeker Limitation: Controversy in Thailand

If you’ve read Pictures and Plane Tickets for a while, then you know that I’m a thrill seeker. Swim with Sharks in the Bahamas? Yes, Please! Jump out of an airplane? Can’t wait for my second time! (just kidding Mom and Dad…) ;-) Cliff Jump? One of my favorite past times. So when I started researching all of the adrenaline-inducing, once-in-a-lifetime activities in Thailand, Riding an Elephant was presented time and time again.

Most of those close to me know that I’m a softie when it comes to animals. Sarah Mclachlan damn near brings me to tears every time I see one of her ASPCA commercials ;-) and over the last two years I’ve been on a personal journey to change my lifestyle towards that of a Pescetarian and hopefully one day, a Vegetarian. With this transformation, I am trying to be more conscientious of the impact that I have on those who cannot speak for themselves, although I am far from perfect. It’s a complete lifestyle change and I’m constantly trying to learn and deepen my understanding in order to make smarter decisions in my daily life.

So, back to that elephant riding thing… when you think about it, riding an elephant sounds fascinating, right? Perched atop a ten ton wild animal as you trot through the jungles and rivers of Thailand… who wouldn’t deem that bucket-list worthy?

Elephant Nature park

As I began researching opportunities to ride an elephant, I found many articles discussing the horrific abuse of elephants in Thailand. As babies, these animals are sometimes stolen from their mothers out in the wild; they are then tortured, abused, starved, and placed in tiny cages and holes in order to mentally “break” the animals so that they will obey. And as someone who is incredibly afraid of small, confined spaces I cannot even imagine the mental anguish they suffer. (If you’re interested in more detailed information, Google: “Riding an Elephant in Thailand” and you’ll find many articles about the abuse).

I asked myself: What is the difference between riding an elephant in Thailand and riding a horse back in the ‘States? Is there a difference?

A few years ago while visiting St. Maarten, I decided to skip a bucket list activity of “Riding a horse on the beach” due to the many reviews about the poor treatment of the animals; however, when I lived in Idaho I rode horses quite often–horses which were well cared for and looked after. For me, it all comes down to the ethical treatment of the animals. And at the end of the day, my love for animals drove me to pursue an alternative to supporting an unregulated tourism industry with so much abuse.

Elephant Nature park

I still dream of interacting with these majestic creatures and on our next visit to Thailand I would love an opportunity to see Elephants up close at the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai. This park is a rescue and rehabilitation center located in Northern Thailand which offers many volunteer opportunities for those looking to interact with these fascinating creatures.

I guess when it comes to experiencing all that an area has to offer and trying to push the adrenaline junkie limit, I finally found a limit. Not because it was too dangerous or too scary, but because I did not want to contribute to the abuse (perceived or actual). I am not political here on the blog as I like to keep things happy and uplifting, and I completely understand that another traveler may have the opposite stance on this subject. At the end of the day, I realized that while riding an Elephant could be a beautiful experience, this time around it was not for me.

Elephant Nature park

**All photos in the post were found on the Elephant Nature Park website. Go check out this amazing website for yourself.**

How cute is that baby elephant in the last photo?

The Bucket List: The Ultimate Destination

I’ve written quite a bit about bucket lists here on the blog; from updating you on my never-ending bucket list, to discussing my thoughts about the importance of a bucket list, to daydreaming about incredible destinations to add, it’s a topic that I can revisit again and again.

Looking back through the years I feel so grateful that we’ve been able to cross off so many bucket list items in such a short amount of time, and looking ahead, my bucket list provides a great reference–sort of a travel-oriented life map–for where we’re headed next.

Last week, Cody and I reminisced over dinner about our many great travel memories–from our first trip to Las Vegas together, to our shenanigans throughout the Caribbean, we giggled about the many laughs and inside jokes that we shared with my sweet grandma and cousin in Norway, and shared our favorite moments from our most recent adventure to Thailand. These experiences were just the tip of the iceberg during our conversation, and I love that our shared memories will last a lifetime.

Our conversation turned from sweet memories to our ultimate bucket list destination and the #1 location on each of our lists. Cody said it is a toss-up between Italy and Australia. For me, spending a week in an overwater bungalow takes the cake.

Australia | Italy | French Polynesia

Australia | Italy | French Polynesia

So now I’m curious…Where is your ultimate bucket list destination?

A Travel Hack without the Hack

Aloha my beautiful Friends!

It’s been a while since I’ve done a “Travel Tip Thursday” post, so today I’m sharing a tip that has been right in front of us this ENTIRE time. I just recently figured it out and it’s so obvious that you’ll probably end up “face-palming” yourself and exclaiming “DOH!” in your best Homer Simpson voice. Or maybe I’m the only 20-something still using Simpson references… 

Homer Simpson

The internet is an amazing and helpful tool when it comes to travel planning, but it can also be incredibly overwhelming (Thailand planning, I’m looking at you!). There are hundreds of hotel reservation websites with each and every site offering the “best deal”, “hot rates,” and “rock bottom prices,” so how do you know if you’re really getting the best deal?

If you couldn’t tell from my original post, we were head over flipflops for the Bo Phut Resort & Spa on Koh Samui; in fact, we loved it so much that we rearranged our entire itinerary just so we could spend our final few days relaxing poolside.

When we originally toyed with the idea of heading back to this resort, we checked the third-party reservation sites which unfortunately showed that the resort was completely booked. My heart skipped a few beats and slowly sank into my stomach as I thought that we were completely out of luck, however before claiming defeat, we checked the BoPhut Resort website and found limited availability for our specific nights. (Pictures and Plane Tickets: 1, Third Party Hotel Sites: 0).

Upon our second departure, the front desk encouraged us to reach out to them personally when planning our next visit. They explained that they could offer us better deals in email or on the phone than what their website shows and they also promised to take very good care of us. (Sure… Allllll hotels say that when you’re leaving, right? Well, maybe. But keep reading…)

BoPhut Resort

Fast forward to last month.

Cody and I have been busy dreaming about, and planning, our fifth anniversary trip for next summer. You guys, I get butterflies just thinking about this trip. And there may have been a time or two where I squealed like a little five-year old being told we were going to Disneyland. Yes, suffice it to say, I am beyond excited about this trip.

With our destination pinned down, I got online to scan hotel prices and I quickly found out that most of the typical booking engines offered the same room category for basically the same cost. Even the hotel’s official website advertised prices in the same range, but here’s where it really gets good…

While browsing the hotels’ official website, I reviewed the incredible deals listed on their “Promotions” tab; and of course, the hotel promotion that really caught my eye ended during the middle of May. (Damn the timing!) I decided to email the hotel to ask if they’d honor the promotion into June because at the very worst they would say, “No”, and I figured that at the very least, perhaps they’d tell me about a different promotion scheduled for the month of June.

To my surprise, the agent emailed me back within the day and said they would extend the offer into June, and the best part about it, they even offered daily continental breakfast for two for FREE. Just by emailing the hotel directly I not only got the promotion that I wanted, but I also received an additional comp, and the best part is that I saved over $300 on this trip, so far. :)

So the next time you’re reserving a room I encourage you to reach out to the hotel by phone or email to ask about their promotions. It’s an additional step, but from my viewpoint, the more money you save, the faster your vacation fund grows for the next adventure.

So tell me, have you previously used this “hack” or are you going to try it on your next trip?

A Bangkok Must-See: The Grand Palace

When one thinks about Bangkok often times what comes to mind is a sprawling city filled with tuk-tuks, delicious food, and beautiful temples on almost every corner. I wanted to experience the Thai culture and learn about the history of this popular city, so I reached out to my Norwegian family members who travel to the country frequently to get their advice on places to go and things to do. Their overwhelming response was, “A visit to Bangkok would not be complete without a tour of the Grand Palace.”

So a visit to the Grand Palace was a top priority while in Bangkok and when I found out that the Viator VIP half-day tour included a tour of the Grand Palace our decision was made. We began our morning enjoying the peace and tranquility at the Marble Temple and then walked through the chaotic International Flower Market before arriving at the Grand Palace just before it opened at 8:00a.m. From my research I knew that the Grand Palace enforced a strict dress code, so we planned ahead and dressed appropriately for our tour, which meant we were rewarded with immediate access to the Palace Grounds. (If by chance you don’t meet the dress code you may rent clothing from the booth near the entrance).

Grand Palace, Bangkok

Grand Palace, Bangkok

Demons stand guard at the entrances of the palace in order to scare away all evil, and as we entered the main square the dramatic Pagoda with its gold leaf exterior captivated our attention. The Grand Palace is a photographers dream because of the grand statues, incredible architecture, and ornate decorations around every corner. Our tour guide, Jeerawat, did an exceptional job explaining the meaning behind each statue, every building, and each extravagant detail, and as our understanding deepened the scope of this sacred historical site became clear.

Jeerawat explained that the Grand Palace is a “Bucket List” item for many buddhists, who save for years before making the once-in-a-lifetime trek to Bangkok, and as a Bucket List enthusiast myself, I could easily see how someone who practices Buddhism would dream of seeing the palace for themselves.

Grand Palace, Bangkok

So many beautiful details...

The Pagoda up close… So many beautiful details.

Grand Palace Demons

Grand Palace, Bangkok

The highlight of The Grand Palace is Wat Phra Kaew, also known as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. This temple is one of the most sacred sites in all of Thailand and there is a strict policy forbidding cameras and pictures inside the temple. Jeerawat explained that the Emerald Buddha is carved from one solid piece of Jade and is ceremoniously dressed according to the different seasons.

We were sprinkled with holy water before entering the temple and as I stepped through the temple doors, I was blown away by the grandiose nature of this incredible room–simply put, I have never seen more gold in my life–delicate vases, chandeliers, and statues surround the dominant pedestal on which the Emerald Buddha is placed. And at that moment I was thankful that pictures were not allowed, as it would diminish the spiritual experience and a picture could never fully capture the essence and magic felt within this space.

Grand Palace

No photos are allowed inside the temple, so this must have been an exception. (Not my photo, click on the link below for details).

Photo Credit

The Emerald Buddha. This picture was taken from the outside of Wat Phra Kaew.

The Emerald Buddha. This picture was taken from the outside of Wat Phra Kaew.

Angkor Wat Replica

Angkor Wat Replica

Grand Palace Statue

I told Cody that this statue made me think of our sweet Pekingese, Phyllis. To our surprise, Jeerawat told us that the statue is indeed a Pekingese and because of their significant importance there are statues of them throughout Thailand.

Grand Palace Collage

As we finished our tour and walked towards the exit, Thai guards walked by in a ceremonial march which was the perfect send-off for our time at the Palace. We arrived back at our hotel around 10:30a.m. and had plenty of time for brunch and to pack our bags as we were headed to the airport that very afternoon. Our time in Thailand had come to an end, and I couldn’t have imagined a better way to end our trip.

Grand Palace

Grand Palace, Bangkok

I loved our time exploring the Grand Palace and would recommend it to anyone visiting Bangkok. Our guide did an excellent job explaining the traditions, customs, and meaning behind most of the buildings on the Palace grounds which added significant value to our experience.

I’ve included a few tips below to help you on your next visit:

  • go with a guide
  • wear light-colored, breezy, clothing
  • bring a hat and sunglasses
  • bring your camera
  • wear closed toe shoes
  • Arrive EARLY. As we were leaving the grounds around 10:00am, the crowds were getting quite large

Have you been to the Grand Palace? What about any other famous religious grounds?

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Exploring Bangkok: A Morning of Striking Contrasts

We battled traffic from the Suvarnabhumi Airport (pronounced “su-waan-na-poom”) all the way to our hotel, and the closer we got to our downtown digs the more pedestrians filled the sidewalks. Motorcycles sped by in-between the bumper-to-bumper traffic as our taxi moved at a snail’s pace to the next stop light. With each new block, we marveled (and cringed) at the mess of power lines strung between the impressive highrises, and I curiously peered down the small, hidden alleyways wondering what adventures would be found down each path.


Sukhumvit District, Bangkok

I knew that Bangkok would feel overwhelming after reading about the city and its 6.4 million residents, so to minimize the anxiety we decided on a short stopover to give us enough time to check out the highlights without getting too overwhelmed by our surroundings. In order to maximize our time in the capital I turned to to scope out the recommended activities, and after a little bit of review Cody and I decided to book the Viator VIP Exclusive: A five-hour tour including a Morning Almsgiving, a visit to the International Flower Market, and a tour of the Grand Palace.

We began our tour bright and early dark and early on our last day in the country–I’m talking out the door at 5:30am, early--and as we drove to our first destination our tour guide, Jeerawat, introduced himself and gave us a rundown of our day. Along the route to our first stop we discussed Thai history, the larger-than-life-sized photos of the Thai Royal Family that were prominently displayed throughout the city, and as we drove by yet another group of soldiers–guns in hand–standing guard in the capital our conversation turned to the current military coup and its impact on daily life. Which, for the record, didn’t seem to have much of an impact at all. 

We pulled up outside of the Marble Temple and Jeerawat explained the meaning behind the daily Alsmgiving–simply, every morning before sunrise Buddhists present daily offerings to the monks which provide the monks with sustenance and in turn, those giving will receive blessings and good-will in their own lives. Residents from all walks of life pulled up in front of the temple gates to give Alms–one by one they would remove their shoes and present their offering always followed by the traditional wai.

As an introvert, I prefer to sit back with my camera and observe the shenanigans as they unfold around me, however on this morning I felt immensely grateful for the opportunity to experience and participate in such a sacred ceremony.

Grand Palace-Marble Temple8

Grand Palace-Marble Temple12

Marble Temple, Bangkok

After participating in the Almsgiving, we walked the immaculate grounds of the Marble Temple and Jeerawat explained that almost all Thai men become a monk at least once in their life; some serve for only a short period of time and others decide to serve for life. His insight into the daily life of these monks was fascinating and quite interesting.

The peaceful feeling that surrounded the temple was contagious and I was surprised to find a moment of tranquility in the middle of this bustling urban city.

Marble Temple, Bangkok

Wat Benchamabophit

Marble Temple, Bangkok

The traditional “Thai style” of Buddhist temples

Marble Temple

Marble Temple CollageMarble TempleAfter our peaceful morning at the Marble Temple we were off to explore the massive and slightly chaotic 24-hour International Flower Market. These two stops were complete opposites from each other–peaceful and serene followed by extremely busy and chaotic–and during our two weeks in the country I realized that Thailand is not only the land of smiles, but also the land of striking contrasts.

We worked our way through the market and browsed hundreds of different flower venues all while dodging delivery men, bicycles, vehicles, and other shoppers. Vendors worked on their displays, while others created beautiful leis and jewelry to sell, and in the middle of it all a group of women gathered to complete an early morning cardio workout. My favorite part of this stop was sampling the sweet Thai coffee from one of the vendors and finding a small bakery for a quick snack.

Now, to be honest, if I were planning a day trip around Bangkok I would have probably skipped the flower market entirely, however, it fit nicely within the schedule of this half-day tour and it was an interesting stop full of photo ops. After our pit stop at the bakery we climbed back into our private car and drove the packed, narrow, streets to the prized highlight of the day. And what a delight the next stop would be.

International Flower Market

Flower Market Collage

Flower Market

Flower Market

Flower Market

International Flower Market, Bangkok

Before I go, I wanted to remind you about my previous Thailand post where I dished about our contemporary Bangkok hotel and shared a discount code for you to use on your next booking with Travel Pony. The discount code is still valid and can be used at hotels around the world, so don’t forget to check it out as you’re planning your next trip.

Rooftop pool in Bangkok

Rooftop bar in Bangkok

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Aloha my dear friends!

It has been almost a month since my last post… sorry about that. Work has been super crazy as its our busy season, but I’m not complaining because my days FLY by, and I LOVE that. Aside from the long hours at work, my best friend/cousin has been in the hospital for surgery and has stayed a little bit longer than originally expected. So we’ve had some sleepless nights, extra stress, and daily visits to the hospital as of late (the bright-side is that she’s doing so much better now–still in the hospital, but she’s improving every day). :)

It is surreal how life can get so busy and so complicated almost over night–to the point where all you can do is hope to make it to the end of the day–and then after taking it day by day (and, at moments, hour by hour), life gets easier… you notice your stress levels lower, and you realize that you’ve made it through another storm. I’m finally starting to feel like myself again, and it feels wonderful!

With each lesson in life, I am reminded that our time here is short and we must make the most of every moment. My lifelong goal of traveling the world remains front and center as I want to see it all and experience it all before it’s too late.


Turning back to the blog, there is a lot coming your way! We still have a little bit of our Thailand trip to recap. I know, I know, I feel like I’ve been talking about Thailand for a YEAR now, but we’re wrapping that up shortly. Afterwards, I have a couple of surprise local adventures to share with you as well. This summer was a good one!

For now, I hope that you are out there enjoying this beautiful world that we live in. Tell me, where are you headed for your next adventure?