Thailand is an explosion of color and flavor combinations. I stand by my claim that it’s the Skittles of countries.
Around every turn are temples, each adorned with small tiles, gold leaf, and mosaics of incomprehensible intricacy. The green curry was accentuated by red, yellow and dark green vegetables, revealing layers of flavor with each bite. Remnants of Chiang Mai’s annual lantern festival filled quiet corners of the city with flowing lanterns. Even the street cats had eyes a shade of blue I’d never seen on a cat.
It’s not that Vietnam and Cambodia were particularly drab or gray, but Thailand was so extraordinary that the difference felt like Dorothy in Kansas vs. Dorothy in Oz.
Distilling Thailand into words and one-dimensional snapshots seems like an insult. Especially in describing the Grand Palace in Bangkok – a massive complex of temples, spires and royal halls where the Kings and their court used to live. The biggest draw is the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, which is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a 2-foot tall Buddha carved out of a chunk of jade who sits high on a pedestal in Thailand’s most sacred temple. Fun fact: this green guy has three mega-fancy seasonal costumes, and the King is the only one allowed to change his clothes.
Another bright spot in Thailand was the Elephant Nature Park where more than 80 rescued Asian elephants live alongside water buffalo, rescue dogs and cats. As we approached the park, one of the elephants started lumbering straight toward me. I’ve never had a wild animal of this size set its sights on me, and I started to panic. Should I get out of the way? What does she want? I froze, and she reached her trunk toward me, touching my forearm and leaving a muddy noseprint. She was saying hello! In an instant, I felt so much love and respect for these animals.
All afternoon, we witnessed evidence of their social intelligence and heard stories of the heartbreaking conditions from which they’ve been rescued. We fed them, watched the babies play in the mud and hustled away from herds of water buffalo (when the guide says, “Ummm, ok…let’s run,” you run.)
Quick PSA – elephant-riding is bad and hurts their backs. Many elephants are in these sanctuaries to protect them from being ridden or used as a kitschy tourist novelty. So no, we didn’t ride elephants when we were in Thailand.
We did, however, get Thai massages nearly every day, which is a very different kind of abuse than elephant riding. Thai massage puts you in a series of poses, pressing, rocking and stretching you deeper into the posture. There’s no lotion or rubbing of muscles, you’re fully clothed in oversized garments, and most of the time there is a person climbing on you like a jungle gym. I promise it’s way more relaxing than it sounds.
In fact, everything about Thailand felt laid back and relaxing, in spite of the extreme and constant activation of my senses. The colors, flavors, elephants, kindness of strangers, massages, mild weather and ease of getting around made it one of the best stops on our trip to southeast Asia. I’ll be back, Thailand. There’s too much more of your rainbow I have yet to see.