What to Expect in Petra

    I cancelled a trip to Costa Rica on a Monday, and decided to fly to Israel on Wednesday. With such little time to plan ahead I was essentially winging it, except for one thing that I knew I wanted to see: Petra. Located near Israel in the Jordanian desert, Petra is a city that was carved out of rock 2000+ years ago. It was named a UNESCO world heritage site in 1985 and has been used in several movies, including Indiana Jones, Transformers, and The Mummy Returns. It has attracted tourists from all over the world. I finally made the trek there myself, and it was worth every bit of effort. I spent my birthday sleeping under the stars followed by gazing upon the world wonder in an experience that I would recommend to everyone.

How to Get There

To get to Petra you can either fly directly into Jordan via Amman airport, or if you happen to be visiting Israel, like I was, you can cross the border by land. I crossed the King Hussein/Allenby Bridge border which is nearby Jerusalem and Amman. It is approximately a 3 ½ hour drive from Allenby. Crossing the border is time consuming; you will be asked a lot of questions, especially if you are traveling alone. Don’t get too nervous if they keep asking several follow-up questions. Crossing into Jordan I was not questioned as much as when I crossed back into Israel, so it is possible you may have a similar experience.

Best Time to Go

The temperatures are a bit milder in the Spring and Fall. March-May or September-November may be your best bet. I went in early May and though the weather was good for most of my visit, it was still in the 90’s the day I visited.

Where to Stay

I spent one night in Jordan before visiting Petra. I slept in the 7 Wonders Camp just 7 kilometers away. I couldn’t recommend enough that you stay in a Bedouin camp during your visit. After seeing both Amman and Jerash I arrived fairly late to the camp. They served a buffet dinner with all the typical middle eastern dishes I had become so familiar with since being in Israel. After dinner, I was shown to my tent which was small but charming. While it is a camp, it is in my opinion considered more “glamping” than camping. You will be comfortable with a normal bed, and showers and restrooms located steps away. There are small lights installed on the rock face of the mountain next to the camp that add to the dreamy aesthetic of sleeping in the middle of the desert, and I found myself wishing I could stay another night there.

The Siq

What to do in Petra

Explore. Once you pay the entrance fee of 50 JD, you enter the visitors center filled with shops selling all the usual souvenirs and trinkets. You walk down a short road filled with local residents of Wadi Musa or the nearby Bedouin camps asking if you’d like a horse or buggy ride, as Petra is roughly a 1km walk through the Siq (a beautiful, narrow gorge) from the visitor center. I chose to walk of course and it took no time at all. Once you enter, the first thing you will see is the treasury. From there you can go on to explore the various parts of the old city, including the Monastery, tombs, and the treasury. There are plenty of side trips and hiking trails.

The treasury up close

Getting the Best View

This part includes a story. Seeing the treasury from the ground was not satisfactory enough for me. I wanted a view from above, and who better to ask than the locals? I asked several men who were standing in the area with their mules and camels where I could find the best view of the treasury. I got several answers explaining a few different trails, most of which were not actual trails and I would have to sneak past the guards in order to get to them. Finally, I received direction that there was a trail near “the tombs” and if I hiked up that and across to the other side I would find the view I was looking for.

I hiked up several steps and – let’s be honest here – I did not do it with ease. The sun was hot and my water supply was foolishly low. A man followed me up the steps with his Mule in tow and kept asking me if I wanted a ride. I assured him that I wanted to hike up myself but he continued in the same direction as I did. This turned out to be extremely fortunate as I needed to be corrected a few times after taking a wrong turn or two. After reaching the top of the mountain, the route required me to hike back down and then across a sketchy makeshift bridge to the mountain on the other side.

“Old people do this,” he mentioned as I struggled down the rocky mountainside.

I continued with trepidation, not knowing if I was going the right way, or what obstacles were ahead. The steep climb would have been easier with hiking shoes, but of course I didn’t wear any that day. I did eventually reach the viewpoint where the photo above was taken, and I owe it all to my unofficial Jordanian guide! To be honest, this was the type of hospitality I was getting used to from the locals in Jordan. When I finally got there, there was a man sitting under some shade who kindly offered me tea. I drank the tea and took in the view that I worked to get to. After snapping several selfies that inspired strange looks from both men and the occasional “do you want me to take that for you?” comment, I decided to head back.

That’s tea.

The Jordanian man followed me on the way back after ensuring that he knew a short cut. When the short cut failed we had to back track and I finally gave in and rode the mule. I try to avoid riding animals especially in heavy tourism areas where I have no idea as to how the animal is treated, but I had a weak moment. We continued to cross the desert, past caves and small herds of goats, and trekked up and down mountains until finally we arrived at the canyon entrance to Petra. I paid the man and thanked him sincerely for his help. I have included instructions below for finding a perfect photo spot, so that you do not end up on a questionable journey like I did! Though I do have to say, that was half the fun.

In order to get a good view of the treasury…

Walk a little past the royal tombs. You will see a path with steps – follow this up. When you come to a fork where you can go slightly left or right…continue left. The trail isn’t really marked, but follow it to the top. Once you get to the top of the mountain you will then trek back down on the other side. Keep walking until you find yourself across the bridge and on the other side. Follow the path on your left until you reach a man sitting under shade making tea. Then you’ve made it! I suggest paying one of the locals to show you if you’re not comfortable. Bring plenty of water!

My unofficial life-saving guide. Random guy in the background was the only other visitor at the time.

Is it worth it?

If you have been debating whether to visit, have had hesitations due to safety concerns, or simply have not heard of Petra before reading this post, my advice is this – GO! Not only was Petra beautiful and fascinating, but Jordan was an amazing country filled with people who were nothing but kind, helpful, and hospitable. I was only there a short time, but now I am inspired to return and visit more countries in the region.

10 Things to do in Thailand

It’s easy to see why Thailand has become one of the world’s most popular backpacking destinations. Whether you prefer the lively city of Bangkok, hiking mountains in Chiang Mai, or soaking up the sun in the Andaman Sea, there is something for every type of traveler. There are endless things to do in Thailand, and before visiting I found myself overwhelmed with potential things to see and do while I was there. This is my list of a few things that made my trip memorable!

1. Doi Suthep

I’d be thoroughly shocked if you visited Thailand and didn’t set foot inside at least one temple. Many travelers that I talked to would often say that they were “templed out”. I think that all of the temples are beautiful and unique in their own way but I narrowed my visit down to two in particular. The first was Wat Phra That located on top of Doi Suthep mountain. The second was Wat Rong Kuhn located in Chiang Rai (more on that later in this post!). If you are in Chiang Mai you must make the journey to the top of Doi Suthep and see the sunlight bounce off of the golden rooftops.

How to Get There: If you love hiking and are feeling ambitious you can hike up! Otherwise, flag down a red Songthaew taxi to take you up the winding road to the top of the mountain. This will cost you upwards of 200 baht, and is roughly 45 minutes each way from inside the city of Chiang Mai.

What to Keep in Mind: Because this is a temple you must respectfully keep your shoulders and knees covered. You will remove your shoes upon entering. Visit early in the morning before the crowds arrive. That early morning sun is so worth it!

2. Volunteer with Elephants

Visiting with the elephants in Thailand is a huge bucket list item for a lot of people, but it can also be a controversial one. All over Thailand you will see advertisements to ride elephants. First of all – do not do this. These elephants suffer a lot of abuse for the sake of being trained for tourists to ride them. The animals are mistreated for the sake of tourism, and they are not meant to carry humans on their back.

That being said, you can still interact with these majestic creatures in other ways. Elephant Nature Park (https://www.elephantnaturepark.org/) located in the lush jungles of northern Thailand near Chiang Mai, is a refuge for mistreated elephants. Their mission is to protect and care for mistreated elephants rescued from the tourism and logging industries. You can volunteer your time here bathing, feeding, and cleaning up after these animals. This is one of the most popular and reputable elephant parks in Thailand and is an excellent option if you wish to interact with the elephants in a more sustainable way.

Elephant Jungle Sanctuary (http://www.elephantjunglesanctuary.com/) is another park that boasts ethical and sustainable eco-tourism with locations in both Chiang Mai and Phuket.

How to Get There: You must book visits on the sanctuary website

What to Keep in Mind: Bring clothes and shoes that you don’t mind getting dirty or wet. A change of clothes isn’t a bad idea! The drive to the sanctuary can be very rough and bumpy at times so if you get motion sickness make sure to pop that Dramamine ahead of time.

3. Sunset Cruise

Okay, so I say sunset cruise but what I really mean is GET OUT ON A BOAT. If you are in the Thai Gulf or the Andaman Sea you must get out on the open water. You can island hop, snorkel, and see the famously beautifully Thai sunsets (or sunrise, if you’re a morning person) from the water. I specifically booked with Krabi Sunset Cruises (http://www.krabisunsetcruises.com/) and it was one of the highlights of my trip. We sailed around on a Siamese Junk to five different islands. They provided food, we snorkeled, and after watching the sun go down we jumped back in the water to swim with the bio-luminescent plankton. Such an unreal experience.

How to Get There: Book on the website! They have pickup locations in Ao Nang and Railay.

What to Keep in Mind: Just bring sunscreen, swimming attire, and your camera.

4. Street Markets

Famous for its street food and busy labyrinth of both local and tourist-centered goods, the street markets in Thailand are can’t-miss. Bangkok has the famous floating market, but if you are in Chiang Mai check out the Saturday and Sunday walking streets, as well as the night markets.

How to get there: The Night Bazaar is located at the intersection of Tha Pae and Chang Klang Roads. The Saturday Night Market is located near Chiang Mai gate, and the Sunday Night Market is located near Tha Pae gate. There are a few different markets, so feel free to ask fellow travelers or locals for their locations and times!

What to keep in mind: Bring cash, and your best haggling skills

5. Railay Beach

This beach is touristy for a reason. It’s one of the best beaches in Krabi. If you like rock climbing, you can’t beat the views here. Railay fills the purpose of a beautiful place to float in the water and lay in the sand also. Krabi is a great place to get your salt and sand fix in Thailand, so if you find yourself wondering which of the many beaches to flock to check out Railay. Side note: If you do a little walking you can explore the penis cave. No that’s not a typo.

How to get there: I stayed in Ao Nang and took a long boat around the bay into the area were Railay Beach is located. The journey was as much fun as the destination in this case.

What to keep in mind: Bring a towel and normal beach items. I actually didn’t bring a towel to this beach but I recommend it. However, there is a resort and couple shops where you can buy any items you may forget.

 

5. Wat Rong Khun

While staying in Chiang Mai I strongly debated making the three hour journey to Chiang Rai to check out Wat Rong Khun, also known as the White Temple. I finally decided it was something I had to see and I’m so glad that I did. This temple is just as unique as it is beautiful. At every corner there is a new strange feature. Predator? Check. Superhero figure heads hanging from a tree? Check. I won’t give away everything, walking around thinking “wtf” is half the fun of this place!

How to get there: I took the green bus from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai. It was about a three hour travel time. Most people would probably recommend spending the night in Chiang Rai, but if you’re ambitious enough it can work as a long day trip.

What to keep in mind: Feel free to capture the unique beauty on the outside, but there are no photos allowed inside the temple.

7. Koh Phi Phi / Maya Bay

Made famous by the 2000 film The Beach, I realize that this is most likely the most popular tourist destination in maybe all of Thailand. It will be crowded. You probably won’t like it for that reason. But when I travel to the other side of the world, I like to see all of the things worth seeing whether everyone else has the same idea or not. Koh Phi Phi is a beautiful island in the Andaman Sea with all the photo worthy landscapes and seascapes you associate with visiting the Thai Islands. If you plan an off-hours or off-season visit you might be lucky enough to avoid some of the mid-day crowds.

How to get there: I took a speed boat from Ao Nang.

What to keep in mind: Crowds! There will inevitably be a lot of people.

8. Cooking Lessons

Khao Soi, a Thai noodle soup with chicken and spices

Cooking lessons are a unique option while traveling abroad. The experience starts with buying fresh ingredients at a local market and follows with a thorough lesson in cooking local dishes. You will be able to find a few different school options if you do a quick search, but check out Thai Farm Cooking School if you’re in the area of Chiang Mai and want to get out of the city for a bit.

How to get there: Most cooking schools or places that offer lessons also offer a pickup at your hostel or hotel.

What to keep in mind: Arrive hungry! And don’t make any dinner plans directly after. This may go without saying but you will leave feeling full. I also recommend leaving a full day open for this activity.

9. Diving Certification

Snorkeling at Poda

I am adding this to the list because it is the one thing I didn’t do in Thailand that I regret. If you want your diving certification, then this is one of the most cost effective and scenic destinations to get it. The island of Koh Tao, located in the Thai gulf, is one of the most popular in the world for diving. There are several choices on the island for PADI and SSI courses.

How to get there: You can take a ferry from Koh Samui for the quickest route.

What to keep in mind: You can decide to do this last minute. There are several schools on the island and there are almost always open spots. Most courses are 4 days long.

10. Local Festivals and Events

Sometimes it just so happens that when you arrive in a new city you happen to arrive during a certain festival or celebration that you had no idea was going on. I always do a trusty google search to look for a calendar of local events! When in Chiang Mai I was fortunate enough to have my visit overlap with the Flower Festival. They had plenty of events, concerts, and a parade. It was a great taste of local culture.

How to get there: Depends on the event!

What to keep in mind: As you always should while traveling, keep local culture and customs in mind while visiting and participating in events. Be mindful, respectful, and as educated as possible. Have fun!