We bid farewell to Mo and hopped the high speed catamaran from Koh Tao to Koh Samui. The catamaran was more expensive than the ferry we had taken on the way to Koh Tao, but it was both faster and a much smoother ride, totally worth the price increase!
We arrived in time for breakfast at our new hotel, the Waterfront which was in the Bophut district of Koh Samui. Bophut was described as a ‘fishing village’ and had a little more of a quiet, family vibe than other party areas of Koh Samui. The Waterfront (right on the water as it’s name implies) was at the very end of the main street and provided the perfect base.
After a quick breakfast we checked into our rooms and showed ourselves around the hotel.
The rooms were all individual, sweet little bungalows that overlooked the beach.
Robert quickly proclaimed this his favorite hotel yet.
After breakfast we explored the street of Bophut, wandering in and out of shops, restaurants and of course massage parlors.
The streets of Bophut were rather quiet (which I didn’t mind), and most of the shops weren’t especially unique, but there was one restaurant that caught our eye..
This elephant restaurant was huge and looked very touristy (we would find that most of the Bophut restaurants were), BUT it was across the street from this awesome outdoor space..
The first leg of our trip consisted of sightseeing in the big city of Bangkok, the second, slowing down in the northern city of Chiang Mai, finally it was time to head south to the islands for a little R and R!
We chose the gulf coast islands since the Phuket side was more likely to have adverse weather (monsoon season) at the time of our visit. Koh Samui, Koh Pha-ngan and Koh Tao are a chain of three popular islands on the gulf side. Koh Samui is the largest, and where the airport is, so that is where we flew into from Chiang Mai. There are cheaper ways to get there, but flying is the fastest and we wanted to maximize our time. Our plan was to first spend a few days on Koh Tao, then head back to Koh Samui for a few more days and Robert would leave from there. Haley and I then planned to spend our last island evening on Koh Pha-ngan and attend one of the infamous Full Moon Parties before heading back to Bangkok to fly home.
* I want to take a moment here to acknowledge how WONDERFUL our experience with Thai airlines was. We flew Bangkok Airways in-country and have nothing but positives to report. It was relatively inexpensive (AirAsia was cheaper but has a dodgier track record), the amenities were amazing (flight lounges with free food and wifi), they fed you on every flight, even a 30 minute one, and the employees were so friendly and professional, a stark contrast to the very rude Delta flight attendant we encountered on our way there.
The Koh Samui airport resembles a large hut and doesn’t have walls which I found most charming and tropical. Once we had our bags we took a cab to the ferry station and caught one bound for Koh Tao. The ferry ride took about two hours and I won’t lie to you, it was unpleasant. The seas were extremely rough and the captain wasn’t slowing down for anything. The waves were so high they were splashing up over the top of the ferry and water was dripping down from the ceiling! Several people got sick, including the man behind me who vomited at least 5 times throughout the ride. Not. Fun.
The poor pregnant woman on board practically kissed the ground when we finally docked and we weren’t far behind her! After agonizing over trip advisor reviews we had booked a villa at The Monkey Flower resort and had instructions to call the caretaker/driver Mo for free pickup. Mo arrived shortly in his white Tacoma and we were off!
As we drove Mo explained to us that Koh Tao was a fairly small island, best known for it’s great diving and laid back party scene. Most of the hotels, restaurants and dive shops were located along the main road, but the Monkey Flower was HIGH up in the mountains. He gave us a cell phone with his number pre-programmed into it and told us to call him anytime and he would take us anywhere we wanted to go and would additionally set up any activities we wanted to do for us. The twisty turning drive up the mountain was a little stomach churning but when Mo delivered us to the doorstep of our villa, The Bouganvillia, it was totally worth it.
It looked like a cute little mushroom house and I was instantly in love. Robert was less impressed by the fact that only the two bedrooms had AC, the other rooms only fans, but he did admit that the place looked “pretty cool”.
FINALLY! Time to recap my very favorite part of our entire trip and quite possibly my entire life. As soon as we left Patara Elephant Farm I told Robert that it was one of my top 5 favorite life experiences. I keep a running list of the Top 5 and so far 4 slots are filled; Getting married, getting engaged, getting Renly and Patara in no particular order. Currently I am reserving the 5th spot for the birth of our future children but if I ever get to go back to Patara they may be edged out, sorry future offspring.
I love elephants and knew that they had to be part of our trip to Thailand, but I had mixed feelings about the ethics of some of the elephant experiences. I did A LOT of research and Patara was the obvious choice for us based on everything I read. After having been I still stand behind that 100%.
When we arrived at Patara we spent some time with the owners son who educated us about Patara’s history and the fate of elephants in Thailand. He explained that the owners of Patara founded it with conservation and re-population as it’s main objectives. The elephant population in Thailand has been steadily declining over many years and there are now believed to be less than 2,000 wild elephants. Patara’s philosophy “extinction is forever” was derived from this data and their main goal is to breed healthy elephants. Patara believes in humane breeding (letting it happen naturally rather than forced or artificial insemination) and to date they have had 40 calves born there!
He acknowledged that some people believe it is inhumane to visit elephant camps and that it would indeed be nice if all elephants could live freely and safely in the wild. Unfortunately, this isn’t reality in today’s world. Deforestation means the wild as elephants once knew it doesn’t exist anymore and poachers make it unsafe. The elephants that are safe behind the walls of these huge camps and natural preserves cost lots of money to keep fed and cared for. Tourism is Thailand’s biggest industry and visiting a humane elephant camp is a way to directly contribute your tourist dollars to the cause. For more information about elephant conservation in Thailand, read this.
OK! Now on to the day! We chose the “Elephant Owner for a Day” package which began bright and early with transportation to the farm provided by Patara. We were picked up in a very nice passenger van with great AC and complimentary bottled water. The van picked up one other passenger, a kind women from Atlanta who was traveling solo through Thailand. The drive took about 2 hours up some very steep climbs and our little group of four found ourselves literally in the middle of the jungle.
As soon as we stepped out of the van we were greeted by a beautiful mama elephant, Manoui and her adorable 9 month old, Baby Hanna.
Our first full day in Chiang Mai was spent eating our way through cooking school, so we were more than ready to explore the city on Day 2, and best of all, we would finally have someone to take pictures of us Robert with us! After breakfast I snapped a few photos of our adorable hotel, The Golden Bell, while we waited for Robert to arrive from his early flight from Bangkok.
The staff were kind everywhere we stayed but they were exceptionally nice at the Golden Bell! The hotel was very clean, in a great location just outside the city center and they had free bicycles for the guests to use during their stay.
Robert’s taxi finally pulled up around 9 AM and I was simultaneously thrilled to see him and in complete disbelief that he had actually made it to Bangkok and then on to Chiang Mai all on his own. I had researched for months and planned our trip meticulously but was more than a little wary that my darling husband who has barely left the states would be able to travel half way around the world solo.
The man amazes me daily.
We wasted no time and headed straight for the city! It took about .5 seconds for me to observe that Chiang Mai was prettier, friendlier, more laid back and WAY less crowded than Bangkok. It also seemed at least 10 degrees cooler and was extremely easy to navigate…double win!
The city of Chiang Mai is basically a giant square grid surrounded by walls, each of which has a gate. Our hotel was located next to the Chiang Mai Gate so this is where our navigation always began.