Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, Phuket

Tuesday, June 19, 2018
When we first started planning our trip to Thailand, my friend Ashley and I had one demand - that we spent a day with elephants. We hadn't done much research on the elephant excursions in Thailand and we both thought at the time that we wanted to ride an elephant. That changed quickly when we started looking into it. Riding an elephant should never happen. I'll talk about that more at the end of the post as I don't want this to be preachy.
Elephant Jungle Sanctuary is an ethical elephant sanctuary with three locations in Thailand. We visited the one in Phuket where we were given an opportunity to interact with these amazing creatures in the wild. We were able to select between a morning and afternoon tour, we selected the morning and were picked up in an open air truck from our hotel. We drove an hour through the coastline of Phuket and it was absolutely beautiful and breathtaking.
Once we arrived at Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, we instantly saw elephants! I squealed like I was a 5 year old seeing Mickey Mouse for the first time. Then I saw a baby elephant and nearly lost my mind.
After a quick introduction on the animals and their backgrounds, we helped bring buckets of fruit to the elephants. If you find yourself doing this tour, here's a tip - grab the watermelon over the bananas! The elephants loved the watermelon.
We spent a while feeding and interacting with the elephants. The baby I saw upon arrival was only 2 months old. He was a crazy kid and reminded me of a puppy. He would copy cat his mom and run all over the place. He even tried ramming people!
Along with the 2 month old, there was also a 2 year old who was much calmer and would allow you to take photos with her! We heard each elephants story, how they were rescued from log camps or the entertainment industry. I made "friends" with a 72 year old who was brought in from a log camp a few months back.
Now you may ask why these rescued elephants are still in a sanctuary vs. being in the wild. Elephants that are no longer considered wild are domesticated and they need all the love and attention that normal household pets receive.
After we fed them, it was time to give them a mud bath!! We covered the elephants in a mud treatment for their skin (we got some on us as well). The elephants loved every moment of this pampering session.
Once everyone was covered in mud, it was time to wash them off and swim with them. Never in a million years would I have thought I would swim in the water with an elephant. The elephants played a bit and sprayed us with water.
After everyone was clean, it was time for a few additional photos. Speaking of photos, Elephant Jungle Sanctuary has a few professional photographers onsite and all the photos taken during your day are free! How incredible is that?
After we said goodbye and changed into dry clothes (there are showers), we were provided with a homemade Thai lunch. The afternoon visit includes two meals. We paid 2500 baht a person (around $75 USD) for this half-day experience. Interacting with the elephants on their land was an incredible experience.
Now I am going to talk about why you should never ride an elephant. Elephants are not designed to carry weight on their back, they are not built like a horse. They have evolved to support a mass amount of weight suspended below their spine. Examination of the skeleton shows instead of smooth, round spinal disks, elephants have sharp bony protrusions that extend upwards from their spine. These bony protrusions and the tissue protecting them are vulnerable to weight and pressure coming from above.
Riding / Trekking camps have been known to make elephants carry people for up to 5 hours. Being forced to work while in the heat of Thailand slowly wears the elephants down as elephants need to cool down and be allowed to eat more then they are provided. They are hurt at these camps guides use hooks to force them to carry tourists which they hit the elephants with, causes bleeding.

Visiting Erawan Falls without a tour, Thailand

Thursday, June 14, 2018
On our recent trip in Thailand, we visited Erawan Falls National Park located a few hours outside of Bangkok. We opted to do this on our own vs. going on a tour as the group tours can cost you upwards of $150 USD per person (which I am very happy we didn't spend). We paid $18 per person and explored Erawan Falls at our own leisure - here is how......

Our hotel offered a pick up and drop off for 2500 Baht ($77 USD). We were amazingly lucky as our taxi driver from the day before handed us a business card and said he would take us to Erawan Falls for 1200 baht ($37 USD). The entrance to Erawan Falls is 300 Baht per person ($9 USD). We each paid $18.25 for transportation and park entrance. Much better than $150!
Erawan Falls was founded in 1975 as Thailand's 12th National Park. It consist of 7 major tiers of waterfalls, accessible by trails and footbridges until the 5th tier. After tier 5, you basically scurry up rocks and hope you don't fall (I slipped 1001 times).
Erawan Falls Level 2
Each of the falls have jaw dropping emerald green waters with fish swimming in them. These are larger versions of the spa fishes, and they will "nibble" on you. I have paid for fish spa's twice in Mexico and will never ever do it again as I have PTSD from Erawan Falls. I did NOT like those fish.
Erawan Falls Level 1
Once we started making the treck, we decided to walk straight up to 7 and visit the falls on the way down to avoid crowds. This was a huge mistake, as it wasn't busy when we got there. By the time we made it back down to level 1, there were so many people that we couldn't enjoy the lower falls. My advice, get there early and start at level 1.
Level 7
The treck up to level 7 was NOT easy. To be honest, as beautiful as it was - I don't know if I would do it again. Erawan Falls was named after the three-headed white elephant of Hindu mythology. The top tier of the falls is said to resemble the elephant's head but I didn't see it.
Erawan Falls Overlook
I found level 2 so amazingly beautiful, and would have been happy staying put there, not putting myself in danger lol. Level 2 has a few food shops and souvenirs. If you want to bring a bottle of water up the trek (strongly recommend it), you have to put down a 20 baht deposit. This helps with the littering. After you pass level 2, you find yourself at a beautiful overlook. Once you get to level 3, the real trek begins.....
Level 5, getting bit by fish
Level 4 is deep and has a smooth rock that you can slide down. It was empty when we walked up, and couldn't figure out how to climb up the rock. On our way down, the rock was very busy - and I had no interest in it after slipping 1001 times. Gabe was the only one of our group to slide down the rock - check out the video below!

We saw a family of monkey's during our trek up. It was a large family, about 10+ of them, including babies. I was in heaven! One of the babies played peek-a-boo with Gabe. Below was one of the larger monkeys.
I will say, if you are not physically fit, trekking up the 7 layers of Erawan falls is not a good idea. All four of us agreed, we would have been OK with not going all the way up. It wasn't easy. We wore close toed shoes with good tread on them and I still found myself slipping all over the place. I left Erawan Falls with an extremely bruised palm, skinned knees and bruises all over my legs. Just in time to head to the Thailand beaches!!!
Eating at Erawan Falls
As I mentioned, there are food stalls at level 2. Aside from that, you can buy food from the outside vendors and bring it in (no food past level 2). There is one sit down restaurant, but it is covered, not inside. The outside carts had instant coffee, so if you want fresh ground coffee there is one that is indoors and it has AC and free wifi.

An amazing getaway at Floathouse River Kwai

Tuesday, June 12, 2018
Our second stop on the Thailand trip was 2 nights in Kanchanaburi to stay at Floathouse River Kwai. We got their by taking a 6 hour train ride from Bangkok to River Kwai (read about it here, and why I think you should absolutely travel this way!).  Once we got off the train, we took an open air truck cab to the marina. Our taxi driver was the nicest guy, and we ended up hiring him to take us to Erawan Falls the following day. More on that later!
After we were dropped off at the marina, we boarded a longtail boat to the floating Bungalows at Floathouse River Kwai. This was the only way to get to the resort and the boatride was quite magical. We were alone in the jungle, on a boat, being delivered to our hotel.
We arrived at Floathouse around 2pm, so our rooms weren't quiet ready. We decided to have lunch and cocktails! When our room was ready, the staff brought us our keys. Overall, everyone there was extremely polite and helpful.
Upon walking in the doors, I knew instantly that this was unlike any hotel or resort I have ever seen. Our room was huge and connected to our friends room.
We shared a deck and the doors to the deck were pocket doors, so you could have the entire space opened. The rooms AC were pretty strong and the beds had a bug net, which we absolutely needed.
Also, the beds were super comfy!
Let's talk about the shower! The showers were enclosed but also had an open window. No one could see in, but it gave you the sensation of being both inside and outdoors. Since we had connecting rooms, our showers were side by side. I was able to have full conversations with Ashley about what we were wearing to dinner, what we were doing the next day, etc. all while showering.
The deck was my "place" for the two days. I loved sitting there, watching the boats go by, or swinging with a glass of wine. One of the things we loved to do was jump off our deck and float in the water. It was a blast. The current was strong enough that we had to wear life jackets and it pulled you from your room, to the end of the resort. We probably did this 20 times. Everyone was loving it!

The onsite restaurant is where we had breakfast each day, which was included in our rooms. The breakfast options were very good. Everything from made to order eggs, omelets, incredible fresh fruit and even curry! I will admit, I ate fried rice for breakfast. We had dinner both nights at the restaurant as well. Here are a few of the things we liked the most!

The serenity of the jungle was the most amazing part of the experience. It was like living inside a sound machine. Overall, I loved our 2 days at Floathouse River Kwai. It was a good split between Thailand and Phuket. If you find yourself wanting to go to Erawan Falls, I suggest staying here. It's off the beaten path (literally).

Why you should take a 6 hour train from Bangkok to River Kwai

Wednesday, June 6, 2018
We traveled from Bangkok to River Kwai in a six hour, non-air conditioned train. I will start this post off by saying, this is NOT the way I wanted to travel to Kanchanaburi. Luckily, I did not win the battle and was humbled with an incredible 6 hour journey..... here we go!
After 3 days in Bangkok, our next adventure awaited for us at Floathouse River Kwai (in close proximity to Kanchanaburi & Erawan Falls). We initially planned on renting a car and driving ourselves but the crazy driving in Thailand scared us away (after being there for nearly 3 weeks, I don't suggest that route to anyone). This left us with 3 options to get there: hiring a private car, going on a bus or taking a 3rd class train. Up until the night before we left, we were still undecided. To be frankly honest, I had zero interest in being on a train for 6 hours with no AC in nearly 100 degree weather. Not to mention, this option would take up the majority of our day. However, the bus option didn't sound much better and renting a private car would have set us back $150 USD.
Let me tell you about this magical journey. We arrived at Thonburi Railway Station in Bangkok around 7:15am for our 7:50am train to Namtok (there is also an afternoon train at 13:55). Namtok happens to be the end of the railroad so we didn't have to worry about missing our stop! Our tickets set us back around $2 USD each. No reservation is necessary and they cannot sell out, all you have to do is show up, buy a ticket and make sure you're on the train before it departs. We had some time to spare and checked out the local market while waiting for our train. We tried Durian fruit for the first time (we ate it before we got on the train!)
I also got my go-to Thai breakfast iced coffee and Jok (Thai congee porridge). I really miss this breakfast, the one in the photo consisted of porridge topped with pork, a soft boiled egg, cilantro and fresh ginger. One day, when I am back to eating carbs, I will make this at home.
It was time to board the train, which was far more spacious than we expected. We each had a bag and a carry-on, which fit fine above us. We took off and I was instantly happy with our decision. We traveled through Bangkok and saw multiple temples and residential areas. We even passed a floating market!
The windows were giant and although it was warm, I never found myself uncomfortable. You could even hang out the windows if you felt like it. The seats were large and the train itself was amazingly clean.
Once out of the city, we were in magical Thai countryside. We saw wildlife in many forms, mountains galore and Buddah's in the middle of no where (see above photo!).

 We even saw what we thought to be a castle on top of a mountain.
Throughout the trip, vendors walked through the train selling a variety of prepackaged food, fruit and drinks. All of the food we saw was 10 baht ($0.30). Ryan tried the pad thai noodle dish. Gabe got a doughnut. There were so many items for sale and you could easily have a very cheap lunch aboard the train. We were excited to see Coke products (this was the first soda we've had since March).

There were multiple stops along the way but the busiest was when we got to Kanchanaburi. We passed over the River Kwai Bridge and tourist were everywhere taking photos of us, so we took one of them too! I did learn while on the train, that there was a tourist train on the weekends. You do have to book that in advance and I wish we knew about this ahead of time.
I will say, this was not the fastest form of travel. However, it was one of the best journeys of our trip. We did purchase a car hire to go back to Bangkok and we basically threw away $150. The train was far better.

So, this prissy girl is here to say - I survived 6 hours on a non-air conditioned train and loved every moment of it.

No-Crowd Phangnga Treasures x James Bond Island Tour with Phuket Lets Go

Monday, June 4, 2018
One of the highlights of our trip to Thailand was going on an excursion to visit James Bond Island with no crowd. Leading up to the trip, all I focused on was seeing the famous rock from “James Bond: The Man with the Golden Gun”. All the photos I have seen on instagram and pinterest showed this amazing rock surrounded by tons people, so booking an early bird visit was top of my priorities. Due to that, I didn't really focus on all the other things we would do on this excursion, which included so much more. This left me in for a total surprise.
Phangnga Treasures x James Bond Island with Phuket Lets Go
Phuket Let's Go offers a ‘No-Crowd’ excursion called Phangnga Treasures x James Bond Island trip. It is a very early day (our bus picked us up at 4am from our hotel in Patong Beach). None of us are what you'd call early birds but we weren't 100% on Thai time and this made the early wake-up much better.
Phangnga Bay
Phangnga Bay Sunrise
After about an hour drive in an air-conditioned bus with wifi, we made it to our first stop where trecked up to the Samed Nangshe viewpoint. I will say this - it isn't a simple treck, it's more of a hike. My party decided to wear beach apparel, which means all four were in flip flops, hiking up a muddy mountain. We're all in decent shape but this was not easy for me (blaming it on the shoes). If you do this excursion, please wear sneakers.
Phangnga Bay Sunrise
Once we made the 20 minute walk, we received a snack box consisting of a sandwich, and coffee. That's when the magic happened, where I witnessed the most stunning sunrise of my life at Phangnga Bay. Photos don't do it justice (and I'd like to say these photos are pretty good!). I will remember this moment for the rest of my life. I also will make it a point to watch sunrises on all trips moving forward.

James Bond Island

What goes up must go down. Back on the bus, we headed to the docks and took a long-tail boat out of a local pier with a local villager captain. We headed directly to Koh Tapu aka James Bond island, where we were the second boat on the island (and they left as we arrived).
James Bond Island
Our small group were the only ones on James Bond Island. This usually packed with tourists location was made famous in “James Bond: The Man with the Golden Gun”. We were able to spend 40 minutes here, exploring and taking incredible once in a lifetime photos.

Here is a comparison...
James Bond Island no crowd:
James Bond Island
James Bond Island Crowded
Typical Crowds at James Bond Island (Shutterstock)

Koh Hong Sea-Canoeing
Following James Bond Island, we headed over to Koh Hong for some sea-canoeing. This was (surprise to me) my favorite part of the excursion. I didn't know really what to expect and what we experienced was jaw dropping.
Koh Hong
Our sea-canoes driver took us through hidden lagoons. He even serenaded us as we went along. It was magical. Our driver told us that during a busy time of a day, the lagoon is filled with boats. Here is a comparison:

Early Bird Koh Hong:
Koh Hong no crowd
Non Early Bird Koh Hong:
Koh Hong - crowds (shutterstock)
Once again, it was only our group experiencing this together, and just another reason why you should do the no crowd tour. The Canoes fit 2 people + their driver and was an experience I will never forget. 
Hanging with our Sea Canoe driver

Cave Exploring
We also ventured into a few caves, saw some bats and stalagmites, stalactites, crystal-like rock formations. I am not a fan of bats and kept to the back of the group for this one with our friend Ashley who had similar feelings about it. Caves freak me out! My husband Gabe and our friend Ryan on the other hand climbed all throughout these caves like crazy people.
Exploring Caves
Our last stop was a hidden 5,000 year-old shell cemetery nestled around the rock and mangrove forest. This was fascinating with all painted maps on the rocks, which is thought to be a treasure map. People have tried to break into the cave with no luck. We had a great view of the mangroves from up top and with that, it was time to head back to the pier.
Once back on the van, we headed up to a hilltop where the group had lunch. We were served quite a few dishes such as Pad Thai, Cashew chicken, sweet and sour seafood, fried rice and coconut chicken soup. Plus everyone got a complimentary beer. It was really nice to have a fresh cooked meal after a long day.
Incredible Day
Everything was great about this tour. The team at Phuket Lets Go is professional, friendly and went out of their way to make our experience in Phuket top-notch. The tour is 4,000 Baht (around $120 USD), but with everything included, it is well with the expense. Save 10% off this tour with code: irunforwine10 through their facebook page.

My most popular instagram & facebook photo was also taken on this day......and now I find myself daydreaming over my own photos!
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