In early January we had our first friend from home come to visit us in Thailand! Hooray! Mackenzie is my old climbing and hiking buddy from San Diego. She’s a natural adventurer and in super great shape– she’s basically Superwoman! I knew she would love Thailand, and I guessed correctly that the world famous rock-climbing peninsula of Railay Beach and Tonsai Beach would be her favorite spot!
Coming back to Railay after our previous quick visit last October was a great opportunity to go straight to the climbing routes we knew we could tackle, and to fly our brand new drone! Yes, that’s right, we bit the bullet and purchased a DJI Mavic Pro. Get ready for some next-level travel videos as we’ll now be adding drone footage of every destination video we make from here on out!
We stayed in Tonsai Bay on this trip, which is the super-hippy Burning Man-esque village on the beach full of dirtbag climbers, reggae bars built out of driftwood, cheap/sketchy Thai food, and fire-spinning slackline shows!
Here’s a 10-minute vlog all about our adventures with Mackenzie in Railay and Tonsai! We think it’ll give you a sense of how laid-back and beautiful this peninsula is! And we hope you’ll notice we got better at climbing! We even crushed a 5.10a!
Ahh, yes, the infamous “Penis Cave”. As I explained in the video, this cave has been filled with phallus figurines by locals as a way of summoning both fertility and success in fishing! No disrespect to Thai beliefs intended, but it’s definitely a unique site and a hilarious place to visit!
It was great to feel way more comfortable on the walls of Railay and Tonsai! And we always feel at home in the hippy vibe of Tonsai Beach so we can’t wait to come back for another visit!
As soon as we arrived in Thailand we started noticing people’s traditional tattoos. After a few internet searches, we learned more about the “Sak Yant” as they are called– magic bamboo tattoos. Sak Yant are beautifully designed and come with a blessing, their goal to grant protection and to give strength to the bearer of the tattoo. The sacred tattoos are given by Buddhist monks, or ex-Monk tattoo masters called Ajarns. The Ajarns dedicated their lives to learning the ancient art, passing the traditions down to their apprentices.
Our Sak Yant Experience in Ayutthaya
After the initial research we put in, we were turned off by the whole “free tattoo in the temple thing” as from the accounts we first read the process seemed crowded and rushed, with questionable sterilization practices. We searched for a more personable experience, and that is when we found Where Sidewalks End Travel. WSE’s owner Ian has spent years traveling all over Asia looking for the best Ajarns masters of the art of Sak Yant. He now offers the most authentic Sak Yant experiences for travelers by providing a translator/guide and making sure participants really understand the purpose of the tattoos they are getting.
On the morning of our appointment, our guide, Coco, picked us up at our hostel and we took a taxi to Mo Chit Bus Terminal in Bangkok. From there we took a mini van for the 1.5 hour journey north to Ayutthaya. We chose to go to Ayutthaya because of the amazing things we had heard about Ajarn Wao, the sak yant master there, and his psychic abilities. He seemed like the best choice and we trusted him to use his mastery to help us decided on the right sak yant tattoos for us.
Once in the city, we stopped to buy marigold wreaths as an offering. After getting the flowers we jumped into a tuk tuk that would take us to the “samayant” the studio/temple where the ceremony would take place. After driving past the temples of the old Thai capital, we arrived and were welcomed upstairs into the sacred space.
The room was open with many windows. At the far end was a tiered altar containing many images of the Buddha, Ganesh (the elephant god and god of art), and other sacred figures. Incense burned in the corner and the master’s apprentices sat patiently at the side of the room. While we waited for Ajarn Wao, our guide Coco told us some guidelines to follow in order to be respectful. These included never pointing your feet towards the altar and walking with bent knees, aiming to never walk taller than the Ajarn.
When Ajarn Wao entered the room, we kneeled at the front and lit nine sticks of incense each, nine being the most lucky number in Thailand. We then presented our marigold wreaths which were hung on the altar. Carrie decided to go first, since she had more tattoo experience. Through our translator Coco, Carrie answered questions about her birth-date, along with a few details about some struggles she has had and her desire to be more mindful in her life. Ajurn Wao made a chart in his notebook, which he used to explain her future and recent past.
Carrie’s Sak Yant Experience:
Carrie’s tattoo was decided; she would receive a tiger to protect her and give her strength. The tiger would be depicted looking over its shoulder at her past, which was difficult but would make her stronger. In the future her enemies will become jealous of her strength and success, and will try to take it from her, the Ajarn said. But in the end she will overcome, emerging stronger than ever. Thus that tattoo was also a reminder to stay in the moment, to not worry about the future.
Ajarn Wao worked fast, but Carrie’s tattoo was large and it took nearly an hour. It was amazing the precision of his needle strikes. After he wiped the ink away, intricate patterns were revealed. As he went he was constantly uttering blessings, his mantras calming. After a few more blessings were added, the tattoo was finished.
But Ajarn Wao wasn’t done. He wanted to give Carrie a special additional oil sak yant tattoo, invisible but still powerful. Our guide said that this was very rare. Carrie agreed and soon a design formed on her upper back out of small bits of blood. The oil yant would fade over the next few days, but it’s lucky magic would remain.
Zach’s Sak Yant Experience:
As it was my turn the calmness left me and my palms became sweaty. I sat in silence with plans to share about some of my struggles, my idea that I was my own worst enemy. I knelt before the Ajarn and before I could speak a word, he said to me (translated through Coco) “You need to decrease your ego. Try to think before speaking.” This was shocking because ego was what I already knew to be a problem and exactly what I had planned to bring up.
He then figured out the meaning of my birthday. In the Chinese calendar, I am born in the year of the rabbit. However, Ajarn Wao based his predictions on the Thai calendar. Under these dates, I was born in the year of the snake, and on Saturday, the day of the snake. This double snake made me very powerful, but my biggest enemy was my ego. The Ajarn then asked me about what I wanted to share, and I exclaimed that everything had already been said. I felt as if Ajarn Wao could see into my soul, which was scary but also calming in a way, as understanding your weaknesses is the only way to truly overcome them.
My tattoo was to be a blessing, with an emphasis on a chicken. The chicken would distract the snakes (my ego) and help bring my consciousness away from my ego’s control. It would help me to listen and think more before speaking, allowing me to choose the right words at the right time. After a blessing I bent forward, away from the master who began inserting the inked stick into my back.
Traditionally given with sharpened bamboo, present day Ajurns use sharpened steel poles called “khem sak”. At first it was just a few pricks, but soon I could feel the sharpness grind against my spine. My knuckles turned white and sweat poured down my face. I was warned that the placement would be difficult, and I was given a mantra to repeat when it got rough. I noticed that the others present felt my anguish and my reaction was laughter which engulfed the room. Soon I was able to relax myself and I became numb.
I noticed the apprentices, who where holding me still, stand and the sak yant sacred tattooing was finished. Ajurn Wao splashed me with cool water and a flood of energy flooded by body. I felt a great power come over me, as if I was new. A smile spread over my face as gold leaf was rubbed into the blessed tattoo.
After we were both finished we thanked Ajurn Wao and presented our donations to him for his services. He told us that in our relationship we needed to stop trying to one-up each other, to listen more and let things go. He was spot on again! This man has real wisdom.
We chose this experience because of the reputability of WSE Travel. Other options include going to a temple where the tattoos are given in exchange for an offering. In these places you will wait in line and receive a tattoo for very cheap, but it may be rushed and you will miss the personal experience. While the needles at the temple are sterilized, they are dipped into the same ink from person to person. Theoretically this could spread diseases and even though our research never found any confirmed cases, we decided that it wasn’t for us.
This was hands down one for the greatest, most spiritual experiences of our traveling lives, and the lessons we learned have immeasurable value. WSE’s Sak Yant tattoo experiences are definitely not the cheapest, but you get what you pay for and this is a lifetime commitment. With their inside knowledge and their commitment to sustainability and making sure the sak yant tradition continues in Thailand, WSE was the obvious choice for us. They also offer experiences in Chiang Mai, Bangkok, Chiang Rai, and Sukhothai along with ink-less blessings in Bangkok. We’ll write an update on our tattoos and how they are affecting our lives soon! Do you think Ajarn Wao’s predictions will come true?
Would you get a sacred tattoo to help you on your life journey?
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The Amazing Adventure Bangkok puts on several super fun tours around the city. They organize these trips like scavenger hunts, giving you new missions as you go, along with opportunities to collect bonus points. My tour choice was The Gastronomic Trail, a food tour which started at Suan Plern Market in Rama 4 Mall at 10am, and lasted until about 2pm. It took us too several different neighborhoods using many different transport options. Full disclosure: I got to go on the tour for free as a travel blogger ambassador, but my opinion is totally genuine and it is that this tour is awesome!
Our first mission on The Amazing Adventure Bangkok was find a ride to the Khlong Toei Market, the biggest fresh food market in Bangkok. Once at the market we had to round up all the ingredients to make “som tum”, the classic Thai spicy green papaya salad. At the start of the adventure you are given a purse with all of the money for the tour. By negotiating the prices and finding cheap alternatives, you can score more points by having more funds remaining at the end of the day.
We took a bus to the market because we had five people on our team (an awkward number for a taxi or tuk tuk ). The Bangkok local buses are super cheap and pretty easy to navigate; use our guide to get yourself around the city! Once at the market we split into teams, each taking half of the salad list. The market was a very local type of place, with every type of food you could imagine (and more). We searched for ingredients for our salad, first picking up a green papaya, some limes and chilies, peanuts, tomatoes, then the palm sugar. Along the way we found some fish in a bucket. One of the bonus points was to “kiss a live fish” so it was of course my job to complete this task.
With all of our salad fixings assembled, we split up into two tuk tuks and had a race to the next destination. We drove like mad and our tuk tuk won of course. We walked down a street to a small restaurant where they had some cooking tools set up for our salad-making. They showed us how to grate the papaya, how much palm sugar and fish sauce to add, long beans and garlic as well as tamarind paste, limes, chilies, tomato, and peanuts. Everything gets put into a giant mortar and pestle-pounded a little bit, releasing the juices which become the delicious sauce. I got extra points for eating the whole thing– not really a challenge for me.
Our next mission was the cross the Chao Phraya River. On to a ferry we went and minutes later we arrived on the far bank. This area was Bang Krachao, “the green lungs of Bangkok.” So close to the city, Bang Krachao seemed so far away. Small elevated sidewalks connect the villages and everything is slower paced. The peacefulness of the area made me feel happy and calm, the hustle of the city fading away.
After being dropped off by the ferry it was time for a bonus challenge. I had to eat a whole century egg. Century eggs are fermented in clay, lye, and salt for several weeks to a month until they turn deep black and become the texture of jello. The flavor is salty and fermented, the texture hard to overcome, especially when you get to the black, runny yolk. However, I won the challenge and we continued on to our next destination.
Mounting bicycles we rode for 5-10 minutes to a small lake. Waiting for us was a local woman with a basket of lotus flowers. She proceeded to teach us how to fold the flowers to reveal their beautiful insides, like a natural form of origami. The lotus flower is the most sacred flower in Buddhism, so after folding them we paced the flowers into our bike baskets to take to the temple later.
The Amazing Adventure Bangkok continued the gastronomic trail to our next challenge; a blind-folded taste test. We tasted two dishes and it’s amazing how hard it is to tell what food is without seeing it. My group-mates knew I was a chef so they put a lot of faith in me, but it was the Thai people who were way better at picking out the flavors. I could not distinguish between fish sauce, oyster sauce, and soy sauce…ah! Maybe in time.
We made our way back to the ferry, ditching our bikes at the shop on the river’s edge. Back in Bangkok we went to a nearby temple where we left our lotus flowers for the Buddha. The guides explained to me about the Kau Cim sticks, in a bucket near the altar. After kkneeling and praying, you pass the sticks around incense three times and then begin to shake the sticks, focusing on your question. After shaking harder and harder, eventually a single stick pops out. On this stick is a number which corresponds to a paper you draw from a basket to get your fortune. From here you find the paper with your number which then states your fortune. I liked parts of mine, but I’m not sure if I did the process right.
Traditionally after receiving your stick you should toss the Jiaobei blocks which have a round side and a flat side. A correct fortune will result in both stones facing opposite directions, while two rounded sides up means NO or that the gods are displeased with the question. Two flat sides up can mean NO or that the gods are laughing at you. If you get this you should repeat the process. My number was 13 and my Thai guides said “interesting”, but they didn’t go so far as to tell me what that meant!
One last mission of the Amazing Adventure Bangkok was to get back to the starting point and order lunch in Thai. The five of us, much better friends now, crammed into a four seat taxi. Very soon we were back at the beginning and we sat in the food court. Our last challenge was to use Thai words to order certain foods. All the signs were in Thai as well so we had to ask around, finding certain dishes. We got some Tom Yum soup, an omelet, and some stir-fried pork and basil leaf. The food was delicious and as we ate I tried to learn some new Thai words.
The Gastronomic Trail tour put on by The Amazing Adventure Bangkok was a fantastic time! Much more than I expected, the price of the tour includes everything listed above, even the large meal at the end. I really couldn’t have eaten any more. The guides were very knowledgeable and I learned a lot about the city, going to some places that I wouldn’t have found without the tour. Check out their website for prices and a list of other tours which they put on. The tour would be especially great if you only had a few days in the city. Being able to experience the local market and Bang Krachao are things that a normal three-day-tourist can’t accomplish.
Thanks Amazing Adventure Bangkok for a perfect tour!
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Ayutthaya, Thailand rests just north of Bangkok along the Chao PhrayaRiver. Founded around 1350, the city eventually became the second capital of Siam after Sukhothai. Because of it’s central location with easy access to the rest of Asia, Ayutthaya became one of the must important trading centers in the world. By 1700 the Siamese capital was the world’s largest city with over 1 million inhabitants. Today the Ayutthaya temples and temple ruins are some of the most impressive in all of Asia, drawing huge crowds to the small city.
Ayutthaya successfully held off many western invaders and Thailand was never colonized. However, the Burmese successfully sacked the city in 1767, riding on elephants and knocking the heads off of every Buddha statue they could find. The occupation was short lived, as the Chinese had seized the opportunity to move their armies into Burma. The Burmese forces retreated to their homeland with a majority of the Thai gold, burning the Ayutthaya temples in their retreat. The following years were plagued by civil war in Siam until control was taken by King Rama I. The founding member of the Chakri dynasty, which still reigns in Thailand to this day, Rama I relocated the Thai capital from the ruins of Ayutthaya to present day Bangkok.
Today Ayuthhaya is home to some of Asia’s greatest temples, and the history of the place is intruiguing. The Ayutthaya tempes are an easy day trip from Bangkok by bus or train, taking less than two hours to travel by either.
We booked a room at Yimwhan Hostel & Cafe just outside the old city. They had bikes for rent which we took advantage of and soon found ourselves among the temples. I purchased a large rainbow bag of corn puffs which I though would be funny to cruise around with in my bike basket. They tasted terrible and I was a bit disappointed until I was told that the puffs were actually fish food for children to throw into the river. We went to the river and threw some in as giant catfish swarmed all around. We laughed about this for a little while, then biked across the river to the more famous Ayutthaya temples.
There are temples all over the city, but the best area for biking is inside the old city’s moat where the temples are more numerous.
One of the most popular temples for tourists is Wat Mahathat which contains the famous Buddha Head in a Bodhi tree, where one of the knocked-down Buddha heads became entangled in the roots of a giant old fig tree.
Another of our favorites was Wat Ratchaburana which you could climb inside of. After heading down a very steep set of stairs you reach the crypt which has some ancient paintings on the walls and bats in the ceiling.
The customs process entering Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, was weird and a little complicated. First you had to apply online and pay. Next, you had to show up at the airport on the exact day as your visa approval letter. At the gate you had to pay again for a stamping fee and submit passport photos, along with another form. You drop all of this with your passport with the agent, who takes about 20 minutes to file the papers and stick the visa into your passport. Then you walk to the actual customs gate where they inspect the visa and stamp your passport, taking up an obnoxious 1.5 pages. But this was the cost to enter, and we were happy to pay it. This would be our second visit to a Communist stronghold country and we expected to jump through hoops.
Upon exiting the Ho Chi Minh City airport we were barraged with taxi drivers all offering different prices to the Saigon city center. All the taxis were supposed to be metered but no one offered us a metered rate. The lowest we found was 200,000 Dong (23,000 Dong to $1 US) which our Airbnb said was an OK price so we went with it. After leaving the airport the driver said that it was 200,000 plus a 150,000 airport tax. We had a big argument where he told us to get out and still pay 200,000. I said “No, you’re trying to cheat us.” But eventually we settled on 300,000, as I didn’t really want to get out. The driver was happy and we arrived already annoyed. For the record, the airport tax is 15,000 Dong and the trip on meter costs less than 150,000. Taxi drivers can really suck sometimes. They are the first impression travelers sometimes get in a new place and a bad one can start your trip in a bad way. We got over it; you live and learn.
Our first stop was for “bahn mi”, the classic Vietnamese sandwich. It was so nice to get good bread finally and the toppings were amazing. We walked around the city for awhile, hitting the sites. The hardest part was avoiding death by motorbike, as they drive very crazily and all over the sidewalks.
In 1976 Saigon’s name was officially changed to Ho Chi Minh City, but many people still call it Saigon today. We hit many of the attractions including the War Remnants Museum,Saint Paul’s Cathedral, and the Central Post Office which was designed by Gustave Eiffel and built between 1886 and 1891. We have seen many of Eiffel’s works throughout the world, this one being very similar to the main bus terminal in Santa Cruz, Bolivia.
The Ho Chi Minh City Ben Thanh Market was definitely a must see. There are hundreds of vendors selling all types of food and souvenirs. We had our first pho, the classic Vietnamese noodle dish with amazing broth.
Once the sun went down it was fun to go to Bui Vien Street. This is backpacker central for Ho Chi Minh with cheap hostels and many bars on the street. It reminded us a lot of Khao San Road in Bangkok, but a little less wild. It’s nice to get a 15,000 Dong beer and sit on the street in a plastic chair watching the madness stroll by.
Our friend Flora has a cousin who was a very popular DJ around Saigon called D-Roc. We went to watch him spin at a fancy nightclub called Qui. This place was the worst– weird service and an annoying management. However, the music was great and we hung out for most of the night. After David’s set was over we went to another club called Lush. They had several rooms with different types of music. Their light shows were also very impressive. They were open until 4 but we headed out before 2 cause we’re not as young as we used to be. Clubbing is not really our scene but it’s fun once in a while with good friends!
Before leaving Ho Chi Minh City we went on an epic food tour with Flora and David (“D-Roc”). We tried squid beaks, salt water snails, spice soup with chicken blood, and many other dishes.
It was sad to say goodbye to them after such an epic few days, but we were full and our curiosity for Vietnam had increased greatly. We couldn’t wait to come back and explore more of the county.
At La Aventura Project we focus on adventure, obviously! So of course we had to check out the Grasshopper AdventuresBangkok Bike Tours! Grasshopper Adventures runs bicycle tours all over Asia, with expert local guides who show you an amazing time. The Bangkok night biking tour starts at their headquarters near Democracy Monument where they give you instructions on the route and explain some city history. Before you head out they give you a quick rundown of the bicycle then give each rider their own reusable water bottle. We were big fans of the water bottles and wish more businesses would reduce plastic waste by using this type of eco-friendly practice!
The Bangkok Night Bike tour started off by taking us down some small allyes behind the infamous Khao San Road. From there we biked a few more minutes to the Chao Phraya River where we stopped just in time to take some beautiful sunset photos. We were already impressed with the quality of the bikes and felt very safe riding around the city because the guides helped us safely cross streets and navigate the crazy traffic.
Stopping at the Flower Market was one of the highlights. We tried some refreshing passion fruit juice and learned about the history of the market. Then we learned how to fold the famous Buddhist lotus flowers into beautiful patterns, like a living origami. There were also vendors cutting betel nuts into packets for chewing. The local people used to chew the nuts to get high, or get energy, but the habit has faded out over time.People still buy the nuts as an offering to their ancestors who they still believe enjoy them. We stopped to get some more street food outside of the market and were able to try many things which were included in the price of the tour.
The tour stopped at two of the most famous Thai temples as well; Wat Arun and Wat Pho. The guides explained a lot of the history of the temples and taught us a lot about the connections between ancient Hinduism in Thailand and Buddhism. We offered our lotus flowers which we had folded earlier to the lord Buddha at Wat Pho. It was really special to view the temples at night, as they are illuminated with bright lights and lacked the hordes of tourists that swarm them in the daytime.
On the way home we rode past the Grand Palace and several other temples. We stuck to back alleys and less busy roads. It was super cool to see these neighborhoods of Bangkok that we never would have found without the tour. The Bangkok night biking tour with Grasshopper Adventures was better than we could have imagined. We learned a lot of Thai history, ate incredible food, and made some new friends. The traffic in Bangkok can be absolutely insane, but we felt very safe the entire experience and we have the guides to thank for that. We really were very impressed with the experience and hope to do more trips with Grasshopper Adventures in other parts of Asia!
Address: 57 Ratchadamnoen Klang Rd, Khwaeng Wat Bowon Niwet, Khet Phra Nakhon, Krung Thep Maha Nakhon 10200, Thailand
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One of our days in Chiang Mai was spent helping our friend Julie check out organic farms for her new organization, Live It Global. Organic farming in Chiang Mai is becoming more popular, thanks to several people who are pushing the community in that direction. There are a lot of small villages around Chiang Mai that are mainly focused on agriculture, growing fruits and vegetables which they sell in the local markets. It was a great experience to get out of the city and see how some country people live. Read more →