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Memories of Magical, Mystical Thailand

Anna Drake
by Anna Drake

April 24, 2024

7 minute read

Kaitlin Coughlin, Senior Partnerships Marketing Manager with Collette, recently returned from our Wonders of Thailand tour. An experienced European traveller, she’d never been to Asia before, so she looked at her trip as a chance to get out of her comfort zone… and was delighted with what she discovered there.

The Land of Smiles

It’s funny, I’d heard before I left that Thailand was a land of smiles. And I thought, okay, we'll see. Within my first hour of being there, I knew why it was called the Land of Smiles! The people were so kind, caring, and warm.

They want so much for you to have the best experience, and I don't always feel that when I go to Europe. I mean, a lot of people are very happy to have you there. Other people have a take-it-or-leave-it attitude. But in Thailand, the feeling is overwhelmingly welcoming. And I think everybody on our tour felt that way.

One thing I noticed was that, in a lot of restaurants, once the server brought something and you’d had a chance to try it, they’d come back and make sure that you were happy with it. And if you weren't, they wanted to bring you something else to try.

Adventures in street food, via tuk tuk

The tuk tuk ride was a real crowd pleaser. We did it at night. We were all waiting in the lobby of the hotel and suddenly this huge line of 16 tuk tuks just came rolling up!

So, we felt like we were in this tuk tuk gang, driving through the streets of Thailand. It was just such a unique way to travel. It was everybody's first tuk tuk ride and we absolutely loved it. And to combine that with a food tour, with different stops along the way, was a lot of fun. To see all the temples lit up at night was amazing.

We stopped at various street-food vendors. It seems like there’s one every couple of feet, and there’s a huge variety. For adventurous eaters, there were deep-fried scorpions and grasshoppers. I didn’t choose these, but those who did said it was like eating anything else that's deep fried. I’ll take their word for it.

And more food!

Oh, the food was amazing. I have to mention the pad thai – I know I'll never have it here at home as good as I had it over there.

I didn't expect to go to Thailand and fall in love with the ice cream the way I did, but it was absolutely delicious. It had chunks of fresh fruit in it. Oh, and coconut ice cream! I might have had that several times a day.

One of the very best things we had on the food tour was the mango sticky rice, which is one of Thailand’s most popular dishes. I’d never had it before, and it was really amazing. It's basically a sweet white rice with mango on top. And the mango and pineapple in Thailand were the best I've ever had.

Discovering Buddhism

I didn't know anything about Buddhism before my trip. And I came away learning so much, which, for me, one of the most important parts of the trip. Our Tour Manager, Mr. O, was actually a former Buddhist monk. He was able to tell us so much about that part of the culture because he was so immersed in it, and that was really great.

I learned that it's traditional for one of the sons in a family to go off to a monastery and become a monk for a certain period of time. It's a way to honour their parents, and the parents are very proud when a son goes off to be a monk. And we learned that only Thai Buddhist monks shave their eyebrows. So, when we were taking tours of all the temples, we noticed lots of monks who were also visiting.

Mmm, massage

Oh, did I love getting massages on tour! Massage is a huge part of Thai culture, there are massage places everywhere, and it’s very inexpensive. It's a combination of muscle massage and stretching, almost like yoga poses. Almost everyone on tour took advantage of it during leisure time. And it was glorious. You could get a two-hour full-body massage, a 30-minute foot massage (my favorite), or even a scalp massage. Very relaxing, and such a great way to spend free time.

The elephant sanctuary

The elephant experience was simply awesome. Elephants are everything in Thailand. It’s the national animal, and considered sacred. It represents strength, loyalty, and longevity. The Thai people value the elephant and what it means to their culture. As a result, they've taken steps to protect it.

Many years ago, elephants were used in the logging industry. They dragged down trees from the mountain tops into the logging camps. Then they became part of the tourism industry, used for rides and photo ops.

A few years ago, there was a big new effort to protect them. The country opened sanctuaries for elephants who’d been in the logging or tourism industries to live out their days in peace. Seeing them in that kind of environment was really special. Whilst we were there, we prepared them a snack, and we got to leave it out for them to eat.

We heard a lot of the backstories of these animals, and it was sad to hear where they came from and the things they had to endure. But to see them flourishing in the sanctuary was wonderful. There was one elephant there named Cherry, who’d spent many years entertaining tourists. She was old and her teeth weren't quite what they used to be, so she’d go through the snacks and toss aside the ones she couldn’t eat or didn’t like. That was great.

Sisterhood of the elephant pants

Elephant pants can be found in every single market in Thailand. They’re very loose-fitting cotton lounge pants with a repeating elephant print. They come in all sizes and colours, and they’re everywhere. They're very inexpensive and look great.

One person bought them on tour and said, not only are these cute, they’re comfortable. Then the next day more of us wore them, and even more the day after that. So, we decided that everybody in the group had to buy them, and we picked one day to be Elephant Pant Day. We all wore them that day, and were quite a sight walking down the street, everyone in the same pants.

Mr. O

Our Tour Manager, Mr. O, was everything. One guest said that he was the thread that wove together everything on our trip. And I thought that was the perfect metaphor – he wasn't just our guide, he was our educator and storyteller. Every day he helped us feel ready for our next adventure. And we had a lot of laughs along the way.

Not only did Mr. O provide a level of security in terms of getting around and navigating everything from neighborhoods to menus, he taught us a lot about Thailand, its culture, and religion.

The group was so upset to leave him and say goodbye! He offered knowledge, stories, kindness, and compassion. And he clearly wanted to share his country with us so much. I think that's what people enjoyed about him the most.

Souvenirs

I think I took a little bit of piece of Thailand with me by learning to enjoy every moment, whether it’s a great meal or a walk through nature. I feel that’s what Thai culture really is all about, and taking even a little bit of that home with me is a lot. That’s what I truly treasure from my trip.

And, of course, the elephant pants.

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