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Since I left home for my Great Escape, I’ve been doing monthly roundups of my adventures filled with anecdotes, private little moments, and thoughts that are found nowhere else on this blog. As this site is not just a resource for other travelers but also my own personal travel diary, I like to take some time to reflect on not just what I did, but how I felt. You can read my previous roundups here: Month 1, Month 2, Months 3 and 4, Month 5, Month 6, Month 7, Months 8 and 9, Month 10, Month 11, Month 12, Month 13, Months 14 and 15, Month 16, and Months 17 and 18, and Month 19.

Northern Thailand Roundup

If last month was all about readjusting back to life out of a backpack, this month was about embracing it. I broke my usual beach-hopping pattern to explore Northern Thailand more thoroughly after only giving the briefest of glances in the past. I was all over the place not just in terms of destinations both new and old but also in terms of travel style: I went from solo travel to traveling with a guy to kicking around with friends, and switched between budget backpacking and splashing out for quick fixes of luxury.

Throughout it all, I cemented my love for both the act of long-term travel and also for Thailand, the country I just can’t seem to quit.

Where I’ve Been

• Seven days in Chiang Mai

• Five days in Pai

• Two days in Mae Hong Son

• Two days in Sukhothai

• Seven days in Bangkok

• Seven days in Koh Tao

Northern Thailand Roundup

Highlights

• I’ve been pretty transparent about not really loving Chiang Mai — so how did I end up spending ten whole days there on this trip? One word: people. I settled right into an amazing group of insta-friends including , , , and Ivan. Our dinners and nights out broke up an otherwise somewhat monotonous period of work and made it quite difficult to tear myself away.

• It’s pretty easy to get jaded about travel experiences after almost two years on the road. But anyone who could spend a day feeding, bathing, and hanging out with elephants and not be awed has their wow-o-meter broken. A particularly special moment for me in this day was sponsoring one of the park’s dogs and naming him after my first pup, Westley.

• After years of being a Thai massage devotee, I loved getting to see behind-the-scenes with my one day Thai massage course! And let’s be honest: half the course consisted of just getting a massage.

• Every moment of Pai was a highlight! I fell so hard for this little hippie mountain town, which I now count among my top three favorite destinations in Thailand (sharing the thin air with Bangkok and Koh Tao!) I truly look forward to spending at least a month here in the future, training at the Muay Thai gym, hanging by the river, eating delicious food and soaking up the laid back atmosphere.

• Two days rafting through the remote Thai jungle was not what I had originally expected — I came for a white-water, white-knuckle ride and ended up with a reflective and quiet two-day float. Not to pull anything patting myself on the back here, but I really was proud of the way I turned my attitude around to enjoy a trip that was not at all what I had anticipated. I ended up loving my contemplative, peaceful trip.

Mae Hong Son is a tiny town, explorable in a day or two. None of the sights are making Thailand Top Ten lists, and yet I’ve been dreaming of visiting there for years. I absolutely loved it — sometimes it just feels good to have a dream realized, no matter how simple, right?

• After doing a big Northern Thailand loop from Chiang Rai to Chiang Mai to Pai to Mae Hong Son and back to Pai, I stopped over for one final weekend in Chiang Mai. It was two nights of indulgence — meeting up for a final dinner and night out with friends, cashing in some Starpoints at the luxe Le Meridian Chiang Mai, and taking an absolutely excellent cooking class! I loved seeing what went into my favorite dishes and can’t wait to get home and butcher them in an attempt to share what I learned with friends back home. Highlight of the highlight: eating mango sticky rice that I made with my own hands.

• Ever since I visited Ayutthaya last year I was itching to visit the twin tourism city of Sukhothai and find out for myself where I came down on the rivalry between them. In the end I’m Team Ayuthaya, but I had a quiet moment in front of Wat Si Chum that almost changed my mind. There I sat before one of the most humbling and beautiful temples I’ve ever knelt before, and I had it to myself for a full ten minutes between descending groups of tourists. It was bliss.

• I always love my time in Bangkok. I never seem to purposely plan in much time there, but it’s hard to drag me away in less than a week. This time I spent a few days in Silom working on a design hostel story and checking out the Bangkok version of Eve Ensler’s , then headed to Sukhumvit to stay with my friend Wes, visit with friends Neil and Scotty, and pop over to the Talad Rot Fai weekend market. I even got to squeeze in a girl’s night on Soi 11 with and ! This city just feels like home.

• Ya’ll know I love Koh Tao — what else is new? On this particular trip I really enjoyed trying out something new — trapezing! It was such a rush and I loved discovering something new on my favorite rock in the sea.

• After my New Year’s Eve Full Moon Party last year, part of me wanted to call it quits on them forever. I had had such a good time I wanted to end my moon-partying on a high note and never try to top it. I’m glad I didn’t stick with that! Heading to the February Full Moon Party with Lindsay, MM and a huge crew from Roctopus Dive was one of the most hedonistic and purely fun moves of the month.

Bangkok Weekend

Lowlights

• Food poisoning — talk about a travel lowlight. In Mae Hong Son, both MM and I spent a miserable night wretching, squirming, and in my case, weeping self-indulgently. Worst of all, we had a tight schedule and had to get back to Chiang Mai rather quickly, which meant subjecting ourselves to windy, long mini-bus rides with no air-conditioning. It was painful, to say the least.

• Two of the things I was most looking forward to about exploring Northern Thailand were the Pai Reggae Festival and driving the Mae Hong Son loop by motorbike. The former was inexplicably never scheduled for this year and the latter was scraped when I finally accepted that I wasn’t an experienced enough driver to comfortably take it on. I admit, I was disappointed by both.

• Its not the worst thing that ever happened, but somehow due to a variety of circumstances I managed to miss out on the Chinese New Year celebrations in pretty much every city I was in for the entire holiday. I hate missed opportunities.

• I spent three days of my time in Bangkok in basically a walking anxiety attack, paralyzed by indecision. I knew that I was not ready to move on from Thailand, but yet I had to follow the plan(!) which said I was meant to be in the Philippines. In the end, I followed my heart rather than my head, and it was the right decision to make. But those few days of back and forth were torture.

• After working a bit too much last month and feeling like I was missing out on traveling, this time I swung the other way and had a bit too much fun! My income took a slight hit but in the end it was a trade I was willing to make for all the fantastic experiences I had.

Partying in Thailand

Budget

Considering the amount of hopping around I did in this month, I was quite pleased with my budget. Between traveling with someone and splitting expenses, traveling through cheaper areas (Northern Thailand is generally much less pricey than islands), and barely spending a penny on accommodation (staying with friends and doing work assignments), this was one of my cheapest months of travel ever.

Fitness

While I was nowhere near as vigilant as I was in Month 19, I did a respectable job keeping up my workout routine this month. In Chiang Mai I did yoga and once even went for a four mile run around the perimeter of the city moat (believe me, in Thailand heat, this is a mission!) In Pai I went to Muay Thai training and on my luxury weekend at the Le Meridian I used the hotel gym both days. Back on Koh Tao I went back to my usual routine of hitting the gym and going to Muay Thai training, but mixed things up with trapezing and a hike!

A Week on Koh Tao

What’s Next

After one more week in Thailand, I’d head straight to the Philippines for three weeks of exploring a whole new country. Stay tuned!

Readers, as usual — it wouldn’t be the same without you. I can’t thank you enough for coming along for the ride!

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19 Comments...
  • Sarah Somewhere
    May 9 2013

    Woop woop! What a month! I love reading about your adventures and look forward to your posts on the Philippines, a place I have not been to before. Happy travels as always 🙂
    Sarah Somewhere recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      May 9 2013

      Thanks Sarah 🙂 Now that I’ve done all my Manila posts, it’s on to the Cordilleras! Stay tuned 🙂

  • Sam
    May 9 2013

    How’s that bikini body on you! So keen for the Philippines !
    Sam recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      May 11 2013

      Sadly not looking so fine after six weeks of gluttony on Gili T! And a month back in the land of bagels and burgers isn’t about to help either…

  • Joao Leitao TRAVEL
    May 10 2013

    I love how you spent your month. Its always good to read about other people around the world since we can improve our own way of travel. greetings from MOROCCO. enjoy the Philippines next!
    Joao Leitao TRAVEL recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      May 11 2013

      Thanks Joao! I agree, I love that we can all learn lessons from each other. I learned A LOT in the Philippines and am very excited to share 🙂

  • Paul
    May 11 2013

    Looks like a month full of adventure! 🙂

    • Meihoukai
      May 11 2013

      Yup, compared to Month 19 this was an exhausting one… and I haven’t really slowed down since!

  • Sally
    May 11 2013

    This is why I love your blog, the personal touch to it and it inspires me to keep working on my own! And it also makes me want to give Thailand another try after a semi-disastrous two months that I spent there last year!
    Sally recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      May 11 2013

      Thank you so much Sally! I’m curious about those disastrous two months… what happened?!

      • Sally
        May 11 2013

        Maybe disastrous is an overstatement but I’m in no hurry to get back to Thailand. I went out there to teach English and didn’t have the best time of it – I’ll be blogging about it soon! Kind of sad though as it’s put me off S.E. Asia but hopefully my upcoming trip to Singapore will help realign my thoughts about the place 🙂
        Sally recently posted..

  • Chris
    May 13 2013

    ^ Sally I’d be interested to hear about that. I look forward to your blog.

    Meihoukai – Great run down of month 20 although admittedly I’ve got on to your site a bit late. I’m surprised you didn’t like Chiang Mai? Most people love it here!
    Chris recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      May 17 2013

      It’s never too late — that’s what the archives are for 🙂 It’s true, I didn’t fall in love with Chiang Mai. I’ve written about it before, but I guess I’m either a super big city girl (I loooove Bangkok) or a laid-back island chick (I spent a year on Koh Tao!)

  • Lena
    May 20 2013

    Meihoukai, I love to read your blog. It’s my bedtime ritual (I know, that sounds weird,ha:) but it always brings me back to Asia and especially back to my beloved Thailand. Thank you for that!

    • Meihoukai
      May 20 2013

      Lena, I love knowing I’m part of your day! 🙂 Thanks so much for reading — this made me smile!

  • Rich
    May 21 2013

    Hi Meihoukai,
    I stumbled across your blog accidentally. I was researching where to take my IDC (Im thinking Utila or Roatan) and found this – Great site!
    Im glad you like Koh Tao so much. I spent 6 months there, completing my dive master. What an amazing place! Reading about your adventures is giving me itchy feet 😉
    Keep up the good work
    Rich

    • Meihoukai
      May 23 2013

      Thanks Rich! I guess you’ve seen my posts on Utila and Roatan then? You might want to check out Cubicle Throwdown, it’s a great blog written by a divemaster on Roatan. Might be helpful as well… best of luck!

  • Janna
    May 22 2013

    Hi, Meihoukai!

    I just came across your Pink Manila review (since I live at the same building) until I got here. I just want you to know that your blog is soooooo amazing and inspiring! I’m happy that you really enjoyed your stay here in our country.
    And since, I really love to travel, I guess I will be your new blog reader hoping for helpful tips and guides. 😀

    – Janna from Manila

    • Meihoukai
      May 23 2013

      Hi Janna! So glad you found me, and so fun that you’re a neighbor to Pink Manila! So happy to have you as a new reader, stay in touch! 🙂