Travel Dreaming

Travel To Thailand: Enchanting and Controversial

Thailand. A country of extremes. A place where chaos reigns in big cities and beaches calm the soul with beautiful vistas. This South Asian tourist mecca layers itself with many personalities. Some are bright like Buddhist temples and floating markets. Others are a bit darker like the animal tourism industry or places called Sex Street. So, how can we travel to Thailand and find the right balance of vacation fun and broadened horizons? Let’s dig in!

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Lay Of The Land

Thailand has more coastline than Florida. In fact, it would take about 20 hours to drive from North to South. It’s safe to say that a typical two week holiday won’t let you see the entire country. The country is anchored by three famous hot spots. To the north is Chiang Mai, to the south is beachy Phuket and smack dab in the middle is Bangkok.

Lilies at the temple
Temple

Thailand’s Beaches

Nestled between the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea, Thailand prides itself on some pretty spectacular beaches. The winner of this beach beauty pageant is Phuket.

Pattaya used to be the beach of choice decades ago but now turns its worn eye toward more industrial needs. That industrial emphasis has taken its toll on the tourism industry here. Yet, due to its close proximity to Bangkok, Pattaya it seems to hang on.

Conversely, Phuket seems to be the darling of them all. While it has been in the news a bit because of over tourism, the Phuket area enjoys the bulk of the tourist influx and, therefore has a far better infrastructure to support those numbers.

The Icons

  • Half Buried Buddha
  • Marine Research Center
  • Gibbon Rehabilitation Center

The Experiences

  • Lay on the beach
  • Phangnga Bay
  • Thai Village

Bangkok

Exotic and chaotic. Those are the first words that come to mind as I think back to Bangkok. Each intersection seems like a starting point of a great migration of cars, trucks, motorcycles and tut-tuts. Intermingled in all of it a precious temples and markers of real heritage. Plan at least three days to see all that Bangkok has to offer.

Reclining Buddha
The Famous Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho
Alms
Giving Bhat to the temple in 100 little pots
Reclining Buddha
Learning about the Reclining Buddha
Outside the Grand Palace
The Grand Palace: Sleeves and long pants only here!
the architecture of Thailand
Thai temple architecture

The Icons

  • The Grand Palace
  • Wat Pho
  • Wat Arun
  • Dusit Park

The Experiences

  • Floating Market
  • Daily Alms
  • Chinatown
  • Thai Massage
temple kitty
A temple resident with a human do no disturb sign

Chiang Mai

About 700 KM to the north lies this second city of Thailand. While still chaotic and perhaps overwhelming, Chiang Mai has a certain gentleness to it that can not be denied. At a fraction of the size of sprawling Bangkok, Chiang Mai offers quite a few unique experiences.

The Icons

  • Wat Phra Sing
  • Wat Chedi Luang
  • Doi Suthep–Pui National Park

The Experiences

  • Warorot Market
  • Bo Sang Village
  • Yi Pang Lantern Festival
Monks walking

Animal Attractions

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. Asian animal attractions, and for that matter attractions everywhere, are under great scrutiny. They are being scrutinized more and more as to the care they give and the purpose they rely on.

There is an undeniable curiosity about animals. Let’s face it, the bigger and more furry, the more we as a global society are attracted to them. At the top of Thailand’s attractions are tigers and elephants. Much has been reported about the treatment and conditions in which animal tourism in Asia and it’s not without merit. So, what is the right call? I think that it is possible that some attractions have the animal’s best interest in mind while others are far more interested in lining their pockets. Take these three examples:

Elephants taking a shortcut through the water

Sriracha Tiger Zoo

The Tiger Zoo was a cacophony of sounds and sites. To one side, was a fenced in gazebo with a pig, a dog, and a tiger chasing each other around in circles. To the other, the scorpion lady was covered in creepy crawlies. Straight ahead was the tiger nursery. About 100 juveniles were in “playpens” they eagerly awaited the visitors who they knew had milk to feed them. The place had the feel of a day care facility. Lessons were hastily given as to how to hold and feed these little ones. Once visitors have a chance to interact with the little ones, they were shown through to a circus like ring to watch the older tigers.

There were a lot of interactions with other animals- elephants, monkeys, snakes. They all were happily posed around visitors. I’m not sure how I feel all these years later about this particular venue. Maybe the correct word is uncomfortable. I guess I will leave the evaluation to wildlife experts.

Tiger Zoo Nursery
In the nursery
Tiger Zoo
With a newer resident, this elephant trotted over to us. She seemed very happy to hang around us.

Pattaya Elephant Village

For a different Thai experience, look toward facilities like this. The village is home to retired working elephants that seem happy to be in the peaceful patch of jungle. The village wants to allow these elephants to feel useful and educate visitors with the history of the role elephants played in this part of the world.

When you visit the Village, there are several animals to see and a few experiences to enjoy including an elephant ride. I felt like the elephants were given their space to roam the pathway at their own pace and I even saw the establishment change out an elephant that started showing concerns with one that seemed eager to participate.

One thing that surprised me was the wonderful lunch that was provided. Sitting under a lovely pavilion with that same soft music playing, local women had plate after plate of probably the best food I ate in the whole country. My feeling here was one of relief.

Retired elephant
One of the retired elephants who strayed a bit off the path. No one seemed to mind and he eventually joined back up with our group.
Thai musician
Lovely music played at the “base camp”

Elephant Jungle Sanctuary

Contrasting the two options above, this sanctuary seeks only to educate rather than blend in entertainment. Here, don’t expect to ride an elephant. Instead, visitors are encouraged to understand the natural habitat life of elephants. From half day tours to week long volunteering opportunities (look to “adopt” a friend for the week and literally handle all of their needs), this sanctuary is the future of animal tourism.

Thailand is known for flowers
Flowers grown and picked for offerings

While the sanctuary invites visitors in, it’s with caution. You are there to learn. There to understand how these gentle giants need our protection and there to understand the massive amount of work it takes to maintain the sanctuary itself.

Many of their packages come with meals, add on tours, and other options to make your time memorable. But then again, do you need much more than a baby elephant laying on your legs to be completely fulfilled?

Elephant Jungle Sanctuary
elephant play time!

That Famous Bridge

One quest you may be interested in is the bridge that spans the Khwae Yai River. Known because of its infamy on the silver screen. The dark history of what happened on the Burma-Siam Railroad is sad. You can learn more about it by visiting the bridge that sits just over 100 KM from the capitol.

The Bridge over the River Kwai

The Mekong

In Thailand’s northeast, the Mekong River is king. This area perfect for nature enthusiasts, is known for its small villages, colorful festivals and impressive temples, this area may be the perfect area to enjoy many of Thailand’s treasures. Food for thought…

Thailand's Mekong River
One of the slow boats down the Mekong.

Two Thailand Tales

When I think back to visiting Thailand, I realize that I have mixed feelings. On one hand, I’m not too pleased with myself that I didn’t realize some of the travel choices I made weren’t the best. The Tiger Zoo comes to mind. I also was not prepared for having drivers who shuttled us down Sex Street without giving a second thought to the fact that I had children in the car. I was not the best traveler then and I learned lessons to make me better.

On the other hand, I loved Thailand for all of its gentleness. In fact, it’s that amazing aura that my kids remember most. I recently asked them about their favorite moment from that trip, and they all recall our time seeing the Reclining Buddha. It wasn’t the elephants and tigers that first pop to mind. Instead, they remember the moment we gave them each 100 Bhat.

There, at the reclining Buddha, 100 small pots are lined up. The goal is to say something you are grateful for at each pot wile you add a coin. As you move along, the soft ching-ching sound relaxes you. What a powerful way to start kids understanding the power of gratefulness and meditation. This was what they remember most.

Moments like this make Thailand a destination that is worth exploring again and again.

Buddha
10 Books In 10 Minutes Series

Ten Books In Ten Minutes: Lovely London

Thanks for joining us for our 10 Books in 10 Minutes Facebook Live Event! (coming soon!) Sharing stories from around the world is an amazing gift to give any child. Putting the world in a young mind’s hands is one of the best ways to create productive, understanding adults. Books like this allow readers to develop life skills like empathy, cultural understanding, and a global sense of self. Let’s dig in to books about London!

London icons
Photo by Valeriia Miller on Pexels.com

TGC strives to connect travelers with quality literature and media that allows the curiosity in all of us to thrive. More importantly, the most powerful tool we have to be the best travelers we can be, regardless of our age, is gobal literacy. So, for more great reads and connections to travel and culture, click hereNote that some of the links below are affiliate links. I only recommend products & brands I love and that I think you would love, too!

Mary Poppins

Full disclosure: I am not promoting an unnamed recently released movie. I am, however, promoting a fantastic piece of literature that will certainly promote your lexicon! P.L. Travers’ epitome of literary perfection is Mary Poppins. I know, I know, you saw the movie and it was delightful but, folks, the movie is just the tip of the iceberg! Trust me when I say that the movie is only half of Mary’s charm.

Travers books are in-depth, thoughtful, smartly written with a timelessness that needs enjoyment as well as effort. Travers dives deep into Edwardian England and gives one a sense of historical understanding. This book is the perfect read aloud for young imaginations or an addictive bedtime read for the older set. So, go beyond the Jolly Holiday and put away the sugar because a spoonful of the one and only Mary Poppins is practically perfect in every way! For more on a perfect Mary Poppins Tour of London, click here.

London City Trails

Straight from the publishers of some of the best travel guides for children comes London City Trails. This book, great for your older explorers, has over 15 walking tours themed for every interest a kid could dream up! From crown jewels to fancy parks, this book covers England’s capital covered. The pages are designed to explore all aspects of culture and get your kids excited about visiting this amazing place.

101 Dalmatians

Did you think that this story was a creation of Disney? Me Too! But, it turns out, that this British classic is so much more than the enchanting movie. Join original author Dodie Smith as she develops the rescue of all those spots from the dastardly Cruella DeVil. Included in this 2-books-in-one volume, is a second book about Pongo and Perdita as they explore the city. With chapters about the National Gallery and Trafalger Square, this classic is perfect!

Harry Potter and the Philospher’s Stone

What more do I need to say? Harry’s story is a sensation for a reason but, ask any Potterhead and they will tell you “don’t rely on the movie!” The book really is that much better. In the first of the series, Harry must head into London to get his school supplies and catch the train. J.K Rowling’s writing brings the city alive in the imagination of all who read it! There are many tours available that are themed for the devotees of the wizarding world. Just remember, read the book first!!

Katie In London

Katie and little Jack befriend one of the lions in Trafalger Square. It turns out the the lion is an EXCELLENT tour guide! He brings the children on an adventure across the big city and makes it more accessible to their young minds. This pick is perfect for those little ones who may need a bit of support in new spaces and for those adventurers who are ready to take on the next challenge in equal measure.

Will’s Quill

Shakespeare needs some help! and he finds it in an unlikely source. Introduce your kiddos to the bard through this clever English Classic that is designed to fill in a little information about his life in Stratford-Upon-Avon.

Henry, The Queen’s Corgi

What happens when a clever corgi becomes the center of a royal mix-up? Check in with Henry who is always conjuring up another plan winds up with a VIP pass to the plushest palace in town. But how will he get back to his true family?

Winnie The Pooh

Half way to the coast as you go southbound from London is Ashford Forest. This is home to the famous 100 Acre Wood of Winnie-The-Pooh fame. Don’t be fooled, long before Pooh bear and his friends were in nurseries, the classic by A.A. Milne is meant for much older kids who can grasp the imagination of Christopher Robin. As with most quality children’s literature, it’s perfect reading for every age!

The Queen’s Hat

The wind has taken hold of the Queen’s very favorite hat! All of the Beef Eaters come to her aid and chase the royal hat all over town. Perfect to start introducing royalty and London’s icons

This Is London

If there were one book that started the travel literature craze for kids. this is it. From the “This Is” series, take a look at every London icon out there and explore this very big city before you touch down.

War Horse

This WWI epic is about a young man and the horse that sees him through the war. This book is so moving that it was turned into a West End hit and a blockbuster movie. If you are trying to connect your tweens and teens with history, look no further.

Travel Think Tank

Lost Treasure, Notre Dame: One Year Later

A cross shines through the cinders at Notre Dame
The wooden ceiling in ashes on the floor of Notre Dame

On the one year anniversary of the fire at Notre Dame, here are a few of my thoughts from those trying days….

Thinking Back…

I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around the last 48 hours. How tragic they have been! Our Lady or Notre Dame has been watching the world change since 1163. It has been witness to celebration and tragedy in equal measure. It has seen war and revolution, religious demand and secularism. As the news unfolded, I think we all slowly realized that this was going to be more than just an isolated fire. The true scope of the fire was evident as the beloved spire of 1852 toppled into the flames. Questions of protecting priceless papers, relics and art were now on everyone’s mind. So, how did the world react?

Well, quite decently it seems. Experts along with world leaders each came forward with condolences and messages of hope for Notre Dame’s future. As president Duda spoke to the mourning public and particularly Parisians, the embers were still glowing as money and donations started to come in. Fellow French billionaires came together and have already donated €700 million. Further, the public has the opportunity to donate to rebuild. While money, especially in this day and age is needed, what about the artisans who will be invaluable to a project that can perhaps take 20 years or more?

Time will tell

You may think that 20 years is a long time but considering that Notre Dame took 200 years to put together the first time around, 20 years seems more like a drop in the bucket. Some have come forward with donations of a different kind. Orchestra superstar, Andre Rieu, has pledged the scaffolding from one of his previous concerts to get things going. It may seem like nothing but check out the 700 tons he is offering.

Further, the Polish prime minister has stated that his country is ready to help. That might seem odd at first glance but if you think about it, who else in Europe knows how to rise from the ashes better than the poles? Not very many. And if structures like the UNESCO world heritage site, The Church of Peace, is any example, the Polish might be just the partner the French will need. Check out the story here. So impressive!

Rebuilding Notre Dame…

As the early plans for rebuilding start taking shape, others came forward with words to put balm on the fresh wounds. From the travel world, Rick Steves surfaced on CNN from Rome and did an eloquent job of framing Notre Dame’s place in European History. While His Eminance, Timothy Cardinal Dolan represented the Church with grace. Click on the pictures to hear their hopeful words.

Rick Steves' thoughts about Notre Dame

Cardinal Dolan's thoughts about Notre Dame

Probably the most inspirational story to come out of the whole tragedy is that of Father Jean-Marc Fournier. This fire brigade chaplain led the rescue of relics and artwork inside the sanctuary. He, along with others, created a human chain to save as much as they could. This came after news that, just 5 days ago, all of the statues on the central spire had been removed for restoration.

The Fire Department chaplain

The Future…

However, the future of Notre Dame plays out in the upcoming months and years, one thing is for sure. While it’s timbers may be reduced to ashes, the love for this icon of history and culture will get it through this next chapter. In fact, when you think of the so many other icons of the past like The Hanging Gardens of Babylon or the great colossus of Rome that didn’t make it through the march of time and history, Notre Dame may just wind up becoming quite the Phoenix. So, let’s plan on meeting up in central Paris in a couple of years. I’ll be there and so will Our Lady, you can count on that. Resurget ex favilla et phoenix!

Envisioning Notre Dame

For more travel inspiration in France, check out the Parisian neighbor, Normandy. Looking for great resources for your kids? Check out our great list of books for young travelers! As always, you can continue your global journey on our home page by clicking here!