Phi Phi Phi Phi island, a 2 hour ferry ride from mainland Thailand, is the exact opposite of a cultural immersion experience. Part tourist village, part Asian Ibiza, part adventure sports mecca, the island is a unique lens into the travel culture for the youth of countless nationalities. The global mixing pot is complemented well with not one, but two beautiful crescent beaches that are separated by a tiny village of shops in the town of Phi Phi Don.
Tourists and westerners outnumber locals at least 3 to 1; the abundance of British, Australian, Canadian, and American visitors ensure English is the language of choice, although German, French, and a multitude of other languages are readily apparent on the streets as well. Along the long crescent of the Eastern beach, visitors can hire long tail boats for day trips to isolated snorkeling spots in surrounding reefs, rent kayaks to explore secluded beaches, or just while away the day rolling around in the miraculously shallow sea.
The islands bountiful plant life and mossy covered rocks protruding directly from the Andaman Sea make the island feel like a little slice of heaven, although you’ll have to escape from the tourist traps of the town below to get some peace and quiet. The entire real estate market in town can be categorized into 6 main groupings:
- Trip planners
- Massage Parlors
- Tattoo Parlors
- Mini Marts
Often times, owners claim two or even three of the above within their tiny storefronts.
At night, the beach bars come alive, blasting deep house beats that permeate through your skin to rattle the bones and the entire area illuminates in neon and strobe lights. Pyromaniac performers from the ages of 5 to 50 twirl fiery sticks in dizzying formations, throwing their torches higher and higher into the starlit night sky.
Power Rankings: Top Tank Tops, Phi Phi
The attire of choice for the bros of Phi Phi is definitively the tank top, and we delighted in seeing hilarious shirts on drunken guys stumbling around town. The five favorites:
- Singha, Chang, or Leo Beer. Take the label off a beer can, put it on a t-shirt, and you’ve got a best seller
- Thai Red Bull logo….same logic applies here
- 7-Eleven Logo. 7-Eleven has an astonishingly strong presence in Thailand, and Bill was somehow able to peer pressure me into buying this tank when I went out shirtless and shopping one night
- No Reason to Say No (Donned by a female masseuse)
- Same Same (Front) But Different (Back). A classic.
TTTT (Trevor's Top Travel Tips)
When you're traveling, you should probably bring a phone charger!
Somehow, Trevor made it through two weeks in Thailand without owning his own iPhone charger!
Meditation Retreat The day after arriving in Chiang Mai, I embarked on the single weirdest overnight trip of my life and showed up at Wat Suan Dok on the outskirts of town for a 2 day meditation retreat. For 30 hours, while secluded in a gorgeous peaceful hillside far away from the bustle of the city, I joined 40 other travelers and tourists for an introductory course in Buddhist meditation.
Upon arriving, the entire group undertook a vow of silence and donned all white attire, including one-size-fits-all ridiculously baggy linen pants. I was initially incredibly surprised to find that practicing meditation for the past year or so put me firmly on the more experienced end of the spectrum compared to other participants, but even establishing a regular practice would not come close to preparing myself for the challenge that lay ahead.
Over the course of that afternoon and the majority of the next day, our instructor Monk interspersed lectures regarding meditation, mindfulness and Buddhism with prolonged periods of practiced meditation. Although sitting still and thinking about nothing might seem easy in practice, the human brain is a fascinatingly complex piece of machinery and I can honestly say that the stamina necessary for long meditations was the most difficult task I’ve encountered in a long time.
It must be hard for friends and family to believe, but for the entire retreat the only time I spoke was when chanting before meditations or meals. As a group, we all learned a lot about Buddhism, the practice of loving kindness, and ourselves during the retreat. It was with glowingly calm smiling faces that we finally dispersed back to Chiang Mai on Wednesday evening.
Chiang Mai Chiang Mai is a wonderfully inexpensive city situated in the center of Northern Thailand; as it was once a bustling trade hub for the entire golden triangle, it is richly steeped in culture and a temple lover’s delight. These days, it also serves as a jumping off point for all kinds of amazing outdoorsing trips: trekking, zip lining, rock climbing, rafting, and elephant training are all easily accessible from booking agencies. During my first few hours in the city, I went on a self-guided walking tour of the area's plentiful temples:
In the gorgeous gardens surrounding the city's largest temple, Wat Phra Khew, I found myself in a tiny forest with Buddhist sayings tied to the trees. Although grammatically they translate to English poorly, the ideas still permeate through:
Today is better than two tomorrows
There is no glory for a lazy person however good looking
There is more happiness in giving than in taking
The skilled man does not show off, but the man without knowledge usually show off
Merit making calculated to impress is not real merit
Virtue is more valuable than university degree
Better is to speak unpleasant truths than to tell lies
More than any other city I’ve ever encountered, Chiang Mai seems to be populated by a booming international retiree crowd; white-haired expats from Europe, Australia, and North America fill the streets and bars late at night to play pool and chat up the local crowd. Chiang Mai is also renowned for it’s night bazaar, which consists of intricate and beautiful displays of artwork on stalls lining the street in every direction, juxtaposed by American fast food chains on many of the same corners.
It’s amazing how the shopping scene in Chiang Mai really comes alive immediately after rush hour. Wood carvings, oil paintings, hand made bags, thai silk, and expensive spices all populate the area and are accompanied by aggressive shopkeepers. Their method of choice for entertainment while not hawking or haggling is definitely the tablet, and I pass by many people playing candy crush sage, clash of clans, and other games I don’t recognize on my leisurely stroll through the expansive market.
Don Ithanon On Thursday, I booked a day trip to Don Ithanon national park, which encompasses the highest mountain in Thailand, beautiful waterfalls, and two massive pagodas built straight into a misty hillside. It was a wonderful adventure.
During the 40 minutes our group spent exploring these twin sacred Pagodas, the clouds engulfed and dispersed around us no less than 4 times.
Pai This morning, I woke up early to catch a bus on the windiest road in Thailand up to the tiny northern village of Pai. Although I’ve only been here a few hours, just strolling through the city streets and finding a gorgeous bungalow with a panoramic view of the mountains has filled me with a great feeling about this town and the adventures that await up here.
A good traveler has no fixed plan, and is not intent on arriving.