After Pai, I made a quick stop in Chiang Mai where I took an amazing cooking class at BaanThai Cookery School. I was stoked to learn how to whip up my favorite dishes like Pad Thai, Khao Soy and Spring Rolls - yum! I also learned the primary ingredients of all Thai dishes: chili peppers (spicy!), sugar, fish oil, and oyster sauce - not things I usually stock in my cabinet but I'll definitely be adding upon my return to the States.
From Chiang Mai I took yet another overnight bus to Bangkok to pick up my final visitor of the year from the airport, my little brother Chris! Chris was with me the first time I came to Thailand in 2004, so we didn't have to do any of the touristy things around Bangkok - which was nice because we were able to explore areas and do things I hadn't made it to yet like Chinatown, a paddle boat ride in Lumphini Park, a rooftop bar downtown, and Wat Arun on the river.
After a few days in Bangkok and warnings of imminent floods, we decided to head down South to the island of Koh Lanta on the Andaman Sea. Koh Lanta was just as advertised- white sandy beaches, crystal clear water, and gorgeous sunsets. It had a very chill vibe and was the perfect place to soak up the sun and eat curry for every meal.
While in Koh Lanta, Chris and I hopped aboard a long-tail boat for an island tour that took us to Koh Ngai, Koh Mook, Koh Chuek and the Emerald Cave, or "Tham Morakot." The Emerald Cave was a really stunning sight. The boat dropped us off at the entrance and at the entrance of the cave the water glowed a beautiful green color. As we made our way past the entrance it gradually got darker until it was pitch black, and our guide thought it was hilarious to turn off the flashlight - not cool! It's definitely a little scary to be swimming in a dark cave somewhere in the middle of the ocean and no idea where you're going...oh, and there were bats. However, once we saw the light at the end of the tunnel, it was all good. We came out of the cave to a beautiful sight, a tiny beach surrounded on all sides by limestone cliffs covered with plants. It was amazing and one of those moments that made me realize how lucky I am to have seen so many of these hidden wonders in the past year - there are so many beautiful places on this earth!