The Joys of Slow Travel: 6 Months in Bangkok

I’ve absolutely loved every second of my past travels around Europe. I look back on my adventures with much fondness. From jumping from attraction to attraction, from catching one bus to another and from photographing anything and everything, because lets be real, Europe is exquisite. However, no matter how many information plaques I read, how many tours I took or how many photographs I captured, I only gained a surface understanding of that culture. I was constantly on the move to see everything I could, but never felt it in all its glory.

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In all honesty, I actually only realized this when I recently read an article based on slow travel. So many aspects of the article resonated with me, which left the concept lingering in my mind a little longer than usual.

Slow travel is about spending longer periods of time at a destination or location. In doing so, you’ll gain a deeper understanding of what you are seeing, hearing and experiencing. The concept echos simplicity and leisure. Its involves absorbing the deeper meaning behind the functioning of that specific society and immersing yourself within their way of life.

Fast forward to the present. Over the past 6 months, I live on the outskirts of the sprawling Bangkok metropolis. Although “Bangkokians” have a good reputation for being able to speak English, that is not the case in the area I live in. In fact, most people stare at us in shock and the kids often touch us, as if to check if we are real. The most familiar food in our immediate proximity was probably the Pringles and banana muffins sold in the Seven Eleven downstairs. Basically, I threw myself in the deep end of a new and vastly different culture. However, it is this experience, coupled with my recent readings, that has my mind hooked on this concept of slow travel.

As I wake up each morning, I open my balcony doors to the wafting smell of bubbling rice porridge over a gas stove along the streets below. If I walk slightly further down the street, I’m welcomed (and lured) by the sight and sweet smell of Thai doughnuts accompanied by condense milk for dipping. Talk about a good breakfast, right?

To get to the local market, I do as the locals do and catch a Songtauw there, which is basically a truck with benches at the back. I can’t always commend them for their driving skills but the only person who seems to find to mind is the farang, being me. As I stroll along the market street, motorbikes zooming past me whilst transporting entire families, I notice all the golden gems this little market has to offer. From the vendor selling his blooming flowers to the local bakery displaying copious local treats to a tiny street cart selling the most delicious popped-rice snack drizzled in a caramel sauce. The carts owner, a small old Thai man, speaks no English, so I am forced to practice my Thai in order to make my purchase. Speaking Thai can be daunting, awkward and frustrating but even if I don’t get the message across, I never walk away empty handed. I will always leave those moments with a sense of richness as I’ve always gained a new experience, negotiation skills and a new Thai word to add to my growing vocabulary.

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I have been so fortunate to experience the Thai culture, which has been enhanced in so many ways thanks to the Thai teachers I worked with. Their generosity and warmth towards me has made all the difference to my slow travels and their inclusion of me within their important ceremonies has provided me with a first hand account of their daily lives.

Related: The Truth About Teaching English Abroad 

As the term progressed, the teachers made an effort to invite us English teachers into their lives outside of the school environment. We played Badminton on Thursday evenings and did Aerobics on Mondays and Thursdays. We were encouraged to take part in (or at least have the front seats at cultural ceremonies), which were bright and beautiful.

That’s the beauty of slow travel. You have the time and energy to discover the gold in the most unexpected places, which you probably would have over-looked on a short trip. For me, slow travel has been about living, growing and glowing in a new culture, which wouldn’t have happened on the scale it has if I was speeding through my travels.

Kelsey x

A Guide to Bangkok’s Street Art

Whether it’s roaming the streets of Woodstock in Cape Town or Brick Lane in London looking for street art, you’ll find me there, and Bangkok has been no different. There are two main areas where you’ll find the best street art the city has to offer, which are the Creative District Bangkok and Talad Noi. The best way to see these areas is to do a self guided working tour. In doing so, you’ll find yourself a witness to the every day life and culture of the local people living in these areas.

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The Creative District Bangkok

The Creative District Bangkok is filled with galleries, funky shops, street art, cute cafe’s and markets. Warehouse 30 is the perfect place to start the tour with its interesting products and trendy cafes. On either side of Warehouse 30, you’ll find some very unique pieces of street art, like the piece chiseled into the wall of the Portuguese Embassy. It is truly a masterpiece.

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Across the river, you’ll find The Jam Factory, which hosts The Knack Market. Unfortunately, it wasn’t on that weekend but it sounds pretty awesome.

Talad Noi

Talad Noi is one of those areas that I wish I had visited sooner. It’s filled with local street art, old temples, river views, local life and a pinch of gentrification. As you walk through the streets, you’ll see locals cooking up a storm or people watching from their doors and shops crammed to the brim with rusted car parts.

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The main street art area starts at a covered alley way, with one wall covered in continuous artworks. As you exit the alleyway, you’ll be met by the sweetest cats (in my case, kittens) and a building covered in interactive art where you can pose for photos.

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As you walk further, you’ll find an old temple with a Chinese influence that overlooks the Chao Phraya River. The temple’s paint is faded and peeling off and the structure has a few cracks in it. Yet, this adds a special kind of feeling to it in a city filled with modern skyscrapers.

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As you carry on following the path, you’ll come across a magnificent structure, with faded murals and bright red lanterns, that looks like an entrance to a sacred temple. As you walk through the doors, you’ll be met by the most inviting pool (especially in the Thai heat) situated in the middle of a quad with elevated seating area, where you can enjoy one of the best smoothies I had in Thailand (no jokes). This property is a beautiful mixture of old and new that has been gentrified in a manner that maintains its traditional feel. Unfortunately, you can’t swim in the pool unless you sign up to their diving course.

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Just around the corner, you’ll find an interesting piece of street art, which I guess is determined by your own perception of street art. It is made up of an old rusted Mini and a crumbling wall. Yet, the colours, style and positioning creates a piece of art without much human contribution.

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Talad Noi is in walking distance of China Town and the biggest flower market in the city, Pak Khlong Talat. Both are worth a visit!

Related: 10 Awesome Things To Do In Bangkok

Kelsey x

10 Awesome Things to do in Bangkok

In my 6 months of living in Bangkok, I never once felt bored. There are plenty of things to do and these are are some of my favourites.

Chill out at The Commons

The Commons is a “community mall” if that’s what I can call it and is located in the hip-and-happening neighbourhood of Thonglor. It offers a variety of high-quality shops, food stores offering tasty variations from across the world and delicious coffee to get you through the day. The spacious outside seating area is terraced with lush greenery making one feel at ease whilst simply enjoying time with friends or hastily trying to meet that deadline. Each level of The Commons offers something different from restaurants, a kids play area, beauty salon and shops offering quality products. My favourite shop by far is Plant House, with its beautiful floral products and arrangements.

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Explore the Creative District Bangkok

The Creative District Bangkok is an area that is made up of galleries, funky shops, street art, cute cafe’s and markets. It isn’t an area you would expect to find in Bangkok, which makes for a pleasant surprise. If you start at Warehouse 30, be sure to check out the roads on either side where you’ll find plenty of street art. My personal favourite piece is on the wall of the Portuguese Embassy. This masterpiece is chiseled into a wall and had me in awe.

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Go Temple Hopping

You’ll probably see this on every “to-do list” for Bangkok but it really is a must do! Bangkok is home to some of the most beautiful temples in Thailand and it would be a sorry to miss them. An advantage about temple hopping is that most of them are placed in the same area. Each temple has something different to see and I would highly recommend paying them a visit.

Prices (2018):

  • Wat Arun: 50 Baht
  • Wat Pho: 100 Baht
  • Wat Saket: 50 Baht
  • The Grand Temple: 500 Baht

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Go Cafe Hopping

Sounds like a strange thing for a tourist to do but cafe hopping is a full blown activity in Bangkok. Locals really enjoy cafe, coffee and food photography, for which the local cafe’s provide quite the spectacle. From the cute and quirky to the sparkly and extravagant to the sleek and simple, Bangkok has them all.

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Explore Chinatown

China Town is filled with the most weird and wonderful foods that you’ll find in Bangkok. You can either take a food tour or take a self guided walk through the many alleyways and choose what you want to taste. However, I think a food tour might be more informative given the language barrier. From day to night, Chinatown completely transforms. I would highly recommend experiencing both. The streets light up with neon Chinese signage and come alive with vibrant mixture of street food carts that line the streets. You’ll know where to go based on the lines.

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Lumphini Park

Do as the locals do and go for a run/walk around Lumphini Park. If exercise isn’t your thing, why not enjoy a picnic on the grass. Lumphini Park is Bangkok’s most famous piece of greenery where you’ll find large bodies of water, palm trees and fields of green grass. In the evenings, the pathways are full of local joggers getting their daily dose of exercise but during the day (weekday) its fairly quiet, which makes it a good destination to sit and relax (if you can handle the heat that is). Note, I lived in Bangkok through it’s hottest season so it might actually be bearable during the cooler season.

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Cycle around Bang Krachao

Bang Krachao is an island just south of Bangkok that has limited development and is home to a group of local people living very modestly. If you feel like getting away from the hustle and bustle of the city, spend the day cycling around the island.

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Visit Bangkok’s biggest flower market 

Love flowers? Well, you’ve come to the right city. Flowers hold a great deal of significance in the Thai culture, which means you can find them around pretty much every corner. However, the biggest flower market in Bangkok is the Pak Khlong Talad, which is where most of Bangkok buys its flowers at wholesale prices. If you want to find out more, check out my blog on it here.

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Party it up 

Start at a rooftop bar and then head over to Khao San Road or Maggie Choo’s for a night out in the town. Khao San Road is where you will probably see the highest concentration of tourists in Bangkok as it’s where many of the backpackers are located. None-the-less, it’s one hell of a party! Maggie Choo’s is a classy club, which sometimes has a live jazz performance. Two of my bets nights out in town happened at these two party locations.

Browse around BACC

The Bangkok Art and Culture Center is where you can muse at local and international art pieces. Apart from the art, there is a sustainable green shop, loads of crafty cafe’s and stores where you can buy jewelry and souvenirs.

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Self Guided Walking Tour of Talad Noi

In walking distance of China Town, you’ll find the artistic area of Talad Noi. This area is made up of local street art, old temples, the sweetest cats and some gentrification here and there. To start this self guided walking tour, you’ll walk through an area that is full of local life. There will be street vendors around every corner and shops piled to the brim with car parts.

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Kelsey x

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2-day Guide to Chanthaburi

Ever just needed to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city? Unbeknown to me, that’s how I was feeling. Yet, I only realized this once I was experiencing the small town life of Chanthaburi. The warmth of its people, greenery and laid back atmosphere took me by surprise, but what a pleasant surprise it was! There is a lot to do in Chanthaburi and I didn’t have enough time to squeeze it all in. However, we opted for a more relaxing than jam-packed weekend away. After living in Bangkok for 6 months, these types of weekends are sometimes needed.

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Day One

Day one started at one of the most unique temples I have seen in Thailand. I know I tend to say that quite often, but each one has something different to offer. Every inch of the temple was intricately decorated in blue and white patterned tiles. As the temple is situated away from the main town, there were very few tourists around, other than a few Thai tourists, which always makes for a more enjoyable experience.

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After the temple, we spent the rest of the day relaxing and lounging around the pool at Sand Dunes Resort, which overlooks the beach. Unfortunately, we spotted some jellyfish as we entered the sea so we decided to admire it from the safety of the pool.

Day Two

We started day two off with a morning drive to Namtok Phlio National Park, which is home to the Phlio Waterfall. These falls were truly magnificent. The crashing water at the base of the waterfall is made up of two joining falls that crush into a pool filled with fish (and locals) swimming around. We were able to get close enough to feel the spray of the pounding water. At a stage, I think we replaced the waterfall as the main attraction, as the locals snapped photos of us in delight.

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Thereafter, our driver dropped us off in the Old Town. This was the highlight of my trip. The locals have created such a welcoming atmosphere. They seemed proud to share a part of their town with us and made the effort to speak English, which doesn’t always happen (even in a metropolis like Bangkok). The Old Town of Chanthaburi is a hidden gem in Thailand. From its street art, local vendors and quaint shops and cafe’s, it really makes for a relaxing and authentic getaway.

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Just across the river from the Old Town is the Cathedral of Immaculate Conception, which really stands out in Thailand, where more than 90% of the population follows Buddhism.

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Another unique experience in Chanthaburi is the Gem Market. Here, you’ll find a thriving community who have joined forces based on the economic fortune of gems. You can buy gem’s, trade gems, buy jewelry made with gems and get your own gems inspected by the local specialists. Pretty cool experience!

How to get there

You can either catch a bus from the Eastern Bus Terminal in Bangkok, which is also known as the Ekkamai Bus Station for 180 Baht (September 2018) or you can get a flight to Trat Airport.

Chanthaburi isn’t on most tourists bucket lists for Thailand but if you’re interested in having a small town and more authentic experience, then I’d suggest you pay Chan a visit.

Kelsey x

The Truth About Teaching English Abroad

Currently, I’m sitting in my classroom, on the outskirts of Bangkok. It’s my last day of teaching in Thailand after six months and I’m filled with a whirlwind of conflicted emotions. On the one hand, I’m relieved to be finished because I experienced some really tough times. Yet, on the other hand, the children I have taught have really touched my heart and I’m going to miss these connections and moments we have created together.

People (including me) say its one of the most rewarding, fulfilling and self-discovery journeys that you could embark on, because it is. However, that’s because it is also filled with a lot of difficult times, frustration and being far outside your comfort zone. When you come out on the other side of all of this, you’ll understand what I’m talking about.

The actual teaching part has been one of the toughest, most frustrating yet rewarding aspects of this journey. There have been times when I have cried, when I have wanted to storm out of the classroom, when I have had to call the Thai teacher in because I couldn’t control the class and when I have simply felt like quitting. However, there have also been times when I have been given massive hugs full of love, loads of high fives and fist pumps and a lot of heart-warming moments when some of the children finally grasp a concept. My heart just explodes with pride, not only for them but also for myself, because it took a lot to get to that moment. I have new-found respect for teachers around the world after this experience.

Before I left South Africa, I thought I was fully aware that I had led a very privileged life compared to majority of my fellow South Africans. However, when I moved to Thailand and I started to actually live in a low-income area, I only truly realized how privileged I am. The area is very industrialized and I am one of five foreigners to be seen around. Therefore, people stare, people take photos without consent and there really isn’t anything pretty around besides a temple and the flower sellers. Most prospective teachers expect palm trees, cascading waterfallscrystal clear beaches and playing with rescued elephants. Whilst all of that is possible over a long weekend, that will not be your everyday reality.

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Everyday, you’ll be dealing with children who would rather chat with their friends than learn English (there are exceptions), you’ll deal with feeling isolated as the Thai teachers may avoid speaking to you, you’ll deal with REALLY naughty kids who don’t care if you get angry, you’ll probably live away from the tourist destinations, people will speak about you in Thai right in front you, you’ll be stared at, people will randomly take photos of you and with you, you’ll feel uncomfortable, you will miss home, you’ll experience major culture shock and you will probably cry at some point.

This doesn’t sound great, right? Well in order to reach the rewarding and self-discovery phases of this journey, you need to push and persevere through these tougher aspects.

You need to build up a sense of trust between you and your students. It’s tough not being able to understand one another and you will probably feel a sense of frustration and helplessness. However, getting angry or irritated with students simply because they don’t understand you will only erode the already new and unstable relationship. I personally experienced this in high school, which made me put minimal effort into the subject. I swore never to do this to my own students but sometimes it’s easier said than done.

Attempt to learn the local language, your effort won’t go unnoticed and it will make your life a lot easier. Your willingness to learn their language will encourage your students to learn yours.

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If you teach in a government school, you might teach children with learning difficulties. This can be especially challenging when you have 25-50 (depending on your school) other students wanting your attention. Try to understand these children. I taught a few autistic children and really formed a good bond with them. One boy in Prathom 3 didn’t like the air con, so we had an agreement that he could sit by the door, with it slightly open to feel the warmth. By attempting to understand these types of situations, you’ll avoid a much bigger disruption.

You will need to learn to not take life so seriously and laugh in the face of adversity because, well, you’ll probably experience a fair share of it. Some students won’t care about English, some students will speak over you, some students may have learning difficulties and some students won’t see the value in English. Don’t take offense, they are just being kids. Some of my Prathom 1’s made paper planes out of their worksheets and instead of getting angry, I decided to fly the planes with them. Boy oh boy, did they love that. One little boy got out of his seat just to give me a big hug.

You need to make the effort to smile and greet every Thai teacher you see because they will eventually go out of their way to make you feel at home. In my case, they invited us to Aerobics with them twice a week, which made both them and myself feel more at ease around each other. It made me feel as if I was actually a part of the staff. After a little more effort, another group of teachers invited us to play Badminton with them once a week. They made an extra effort to teach us as well as to provide us with transport and equipment. How welcoming is that!? The more involved you become, the more you will learn about the culture too.

I, by no means, have perfected doing all of this as it is harder than it seems. There are still times where my frustration gets the better of me.

This experience is 100% about what you make of it. It’s your choice to not let adversity and naughty children ruin your entire day. It’s your choice to start your day with a positive mindset. It’s your choice to use this opportunity of discomfort to grow and glow and it’s your choice to make the most of every lesson thrown at you. If you choose to start your day on a negative note, complain about everything and let the little things get to you, well, your going to gain nothing.

This experience has taught me more than I ever imagined. From what I am capable of to the direction in which I want my life to go and I can honestly say that I am proud of myself. I feel like I can handle anything after this. So, bring on the new adventure of Vietnam and beyond.

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Kelsey x

A Guide to Kanchanaburi, Thailand

Chasing waterfalls and climbing mountains to find sacred temples, mixed in with a rich but dark history sound interesting? Well then you’ll love Kanchanaburi as much as I did! We started our trip at 3:30am on Saturday morning. Traveling on 4 hours of sleep was tough but well worth it. After a 2 hour bus trip from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi, we wasted no time and immediately jumped onto another bus to Erawan National Park.

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Erawan Waterfalls

The hike through the Erawan National Park, which follows the Erawan Waterfalls has got to be one of the most beautiful hikes I have ever done, and even that is an understatement. The 7-level falls carry tons of gushing water over towering cliffs into emerald blue pools below, which become crystal clear in the shallow depths. Each level features something different making each one unique. Level 3 and 7 have towering waterfalls whereas another level has a bum slide. As we arrived early, we took others advice and hiked to the top first. This way we were able to see each pool in all its natural glory with no or only a few people around. Our way back down was a different story so I would suggest going early. Warning, the fish like to nibble on your feet. It isn’t sore but it might give you a fright.

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Temple Hopping

After a slow morning of relaxing and eating on our hostel deck overlooking the river, we jumped into a taxi for a day of exploring.

Our first destination was Wat Ban Tham, also known as the Dragon’s Head Temple. We had to climb 724 stairs through a dragons body, through a cave and up a mountain side to the reach the top but the view was totally worth it. We were the only farangs (westerners) in sight which resulted in me being stopped to pose for photos with locals on two occasions. Red faced from the climb, I happily obliged.

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The second destination was Tiger Temple. Luckily, this temple has a cable car to the top, even though it doesn’t have nearly as many stairs to climb as Wat Ban Tham. As we reached the top, we were met by a giant golden Buddha, where many Thai’s were paying their respects with lotus flowers and incense. We climbed the winding stairs of one of the temple structures and found ourselves in a small quiet room, with locals kneeling on the floor and paying respect to the Buddhist feature in the center of the room.

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Visiting these temples is more than simply admiring the intricate architecture, but also an fascinating cultural experience. To top it all, the temple is surrounded by fields and fields of rice paddies, which is such a refreshing sight for someone living in the concrete jungle of Bangkok.

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Our last destination for the day was the Giant Rain Tree, which is over 100 years old. The trunk is wrapped in multi-coloured material, whilst its branches towered over us creating an umbrella for all those beneath.

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Where to Stay

I’m sure there are some wonderful hotels in the area but I cannot recommend D Hostel enough. Being able to wake up on the river (it’s literally built over the water), make my own breakfast and drink my coffee to the breathtaking view of the river and mountain is definitely something i’ll cherish about this trip.

Related: A Guide to the Beautiful Chiang Mai, Thailand

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Kanchanaburi is the perfect place for a nature-filled escape, especially if you are coming from Bangkok. I highly recommend a 3-day stay to be able to experience the historic side as well, which I’ll be back for.

Kelsey x

Bangkok’s Biggest Flower Market

Pak Khlong Talat was nothing like my Westernized idea of a flower market. It is not situated in a beautiful road such as Colombia Road Flower Market in London, or at the various slow markets around Cape Town. It is a thriving market that is partly located in a warehouse-like building and along a busy main road. This market has a more rustic and authentic feel to it than one assumes a flower market would have. The old-tiled floors glisten with water, the metal stall frames are hidden by bags of stemless flowers and roses are wrapped in cardboard or newspaper.

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As you walk through the market, you can see vendors creating phuang malai (flower garlands used as a symbol of  greetings, respect and good health) and assembling large bouquets of flowers for special occasions. The market isn’t very busy during the day so as a tourist, I would suggest going then if you want to get some photos. However, I have read about how exciting the market gets in the early hours of the morning when all the deliveries arrive and businesses make their purchases at wholesale prices. If you are looking to brighten up your home/hotel room or make someones day – go buy some flowers for next to nothing at the market. Seriously, they are so cheap.

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The market doesn’t only consist of flowers, there is also a thriving fresh produce market woven in between the flowers. When I say I have never seen that much garlic in my life, I mean it. Literally truckloads! As well as baskets and baskets of fresh chili.

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If you loved the flower market, then I would suggest going to the Floral Cafe at Napasorn. It is one of the most beautiful cafe’s I have ever seen. It has maintained the flower theme of the area, and when i say flower themed, I mean they have gone all out! The walls are covered in flowers, the roof is draped with flowers and the mirrors have beautiful sayings printed across them – such a feel good place!

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Kelsey x