I was given the advice to “get in, see what you need to see, and then get the heck out” when it came to Bangkok.  I’m certain there are many who would disagree with this advice, but because we were traveling on a limited time frame, we decided to stay only three nights (the first being the evening that we arrived) in Thailand’s capital and jam-packed our itinerary for this first part of our trip to Thailand with activities that we won’t soon forget!

We booked rooms off a quiet street at the Napa Place Boutique Hotel.  The staff was friendly, the rooms were spacious and the hotel offered inexpensive laundry service.

397268_617685172384_642436090_n The morning after our arrival in Thailand we started our day by exploring the Grand Palace in the heart of Bangkok.  The Grand Palace, which the Thai began building in 1782, consists of many buildings, halls and pavilions set around open lawns, gardens, and courtyards.

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You could spend quite a bit of time exploring the sprawling palace grounds and shimmering pagodas.  The complex is impressive and a must-see if you have at least a day in the city. It’s important to note that your knees, shoulders, and feet need to be covered for entry into the palace.

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If planning a trip to Bangkok, you should know that it is one of those cities where “scammers” run rampant and prey on tourists.  There are tons of scams that as a tourist you could fall victim to.  For example, while standing outside the palace with our cameras and maps in hand, we were approached by a gentleman who tried to tell us that the palace was closed for a few hours, but that if we got in his tuk tuk he would take us to see the Reclining Buddha and several other attractions and then have us back to the palace in time for its opening. Obviously, the palace was not closed, and had we fallen for this scam, he would have attempted to charge us an exorbitant amount for his tuk tuk and tour guide services.

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After we explored the palace grounds, we walked to Wat Pho to see the enormous Reclining Buddha – literally a huge gold reclining Buddha.  The Buddha is 46 meters long and 15 meters high and is representative of the passing of the Buddha into nirvana.

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Following a long day of sight-seeing in the heat (paired with fighting jet lag), we found some delicious Thai cuisine before calling it a night.  If you’re a foodie, you’ll love Bangkok.  The city offers an array of impressive dishes at every price point.

The next day we had planned with Tours with Tong (TWT).  I don’t usually hire tour guides and prefer unguided travel, but since we were traveling outside of Bangkok to Kanchanburi, we knew we at least would require a driver.  Ultimately, hiring a tour guide was the easiest solution to plan our jam-packed day.  That said, TWT is not your typical private guided tour – the company let us have 100% control to plan and customize our day, and then they took care of all the details for us. Everything was perfect, including our knowledgeable and friendly tour guide.  The day cost us $270.00 per person; which seems pricey, but the cost also included our “VIP access” to Tiger Temple which alone would have cost $160.00 a person.  Interestingly, the half day at Tiger Temple is often touted the most expensive activity in Thailand – not too bad by American standards!

To begin the day, TWT picked us up around 5:00 a.m. in a large air-conditioned van; the first stop was the bridge on the River Kwai.  During World War II, the Japanese used prisoners of war to build a railway from Thailand to Burma.  Because of the inhumane conditions, many prisoners died while building the railway.

393849_617554564124_1649040878_n395538_617685047634_846053037_n Our next stop was the famous and controversial Tiger Temple in Kanchanburi where we opted for the VIP hands-on small group Tiger experience.  After breakfast, our day started with feeding the baby cubs bottles of formula.  They were adorable, but mine was feisty and was constantly trying to bite me.

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After we spent some time getting used to being around the little beasts, we graduated to adolescent tigers.  These tigers were the most active and mischievous, continually swatting at the tourists nearby.  Next up, we bathed and fed the rambunctious teens.

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Out of the four of us, only Crystal and myself were brave enough to hold a piece of raw chicken in our hand for the tiger to munch on (hoping and praying he wouldn’t take a bite of one of our fingers).

523348_641825669634_2095406807_n After the tigers were clean and full, a leashed walk was next on the agenda.  This wasn’t as easy as one would imagine since our tiger refused to stop stalking other groups walking by us, waiting for the perfect moment to pounce.

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After the walk, we had worked our way up to playing with the big boys – large full-grown tigers.  We were literally given giant cat toys on a stick to “play” with the humongous off-leash felines.  For many, this was the most terrifying part of the day given the sheer size of the full-grown tigers.  However, I still thought the adolescents were the most unpredictable and difficult to control.

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The large tigers’ temperament was like that of a typical house cat – fairly lazy, until they decided to strike or leap at one of the “cat toys” we were waiving in their face.   Our tiger experience ended with walking the large full-grown tigers to a play area where trainers put on a water show with the giant cats.

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Following our Tiger Temple experience, our TWT driver took us to an elephant sanctuary.  Initially, we became acquainted with our elephants by bribing them with bananas before riding them down to the river for their bathes.

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What I didn’t expect was for the ride to be as terrifying as it was.   Obviously the elephants are extremely tall, but we were riding them bareback.  Without a saddle, we had nothing but the elephant itself to hold onto. Whenever the elephant turned or leaned down to eat vegetation, it often felt like we were going to fall off of them, especially since we had to ride the animals down an incline to get down to the river.

That said, the ride was worth it because spending time in the river with the elephants was one of the most amazing experiences of my life!  They are intelligent and playful animals and were so much fun to spend time with.  My elephant, “Miss Universe,” used her trunk to spray water on us and toss us off her back into the river.

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After the elephant reserve, we stopped at Erawan National Park before heading back to Bangkok.

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The park is famous for their beautiful multi-tiered waterfalls.

405847_617606200644_1521337225_n Without hesitation, I jumped into the water to explore the waterfalls, but quickly realized that there were hundreds of fish swimming with us!  The fish nibbled on our feet sucking off the dead skin – a “free fish pedicure” (just like the ones you can pay a dollar or two for throughout Asia, but from much bigger fish)!

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After spending an hour or so in the park exploring the falls, we decided that we were ready to head home to our guesthouse in Bangkok.  Fitting the river, tigers, elephants and falls into one trip made for a long and exhausting day, but to date, it was one of my favorite days of travel I’ve experienced!