My first memory of Thailand was speeding into Bangkok on the back of a motorbike. Clinging for dear life to its obese driver, whom I’d selected because his sheer mass made me feel secure (it was my maiden voyage on such a vehicle, I hurtled into a vortex of strobing neon, blaring horns and vaporized chili oil that burned my nostrils as I inhaled it.
This experience changed me forever.
Since that day in early 2010, I’ve crossed nearly 100 countries off my bucket list. I’ve gone on safari (several of them) in Africa, seen the scars of war and seeds of peace in the Balkans and the Middle East, swum with sharks in the Galapagos and even explored Iran, a place I only thought I’d never see with my own eyes. I’ve spent so much time in Japan (which, on certain days of the week, is the destination I’d call my favorite in the world) that I started an entire website devoted to it.
In spite of my extensive travels, and the extent to which travelers alike have come to see Thailand as a cop-out destination of sorts, I’ve returned to the Land of Smiles more times than I can count.
From the beaches of Krabi and Trat, to the Lanna-era cities of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, to provinces even my well-traveled Thai friends never go, like Nakhon Si Thammarat and Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand has become my home—literally. In addition to how at ease I feel whenever my plane touches down at Suvarnabhumi, I’d spent two extended periods of time in the Kingdom: Three months in late 2012; and from just after Donald Trump was inaugurated until the present day.
Countless people dear to me have allowed me to show them the best of Thailand, from my longtime travel buddy Dora, to Instagram followers like Ismael from Mauritius, to Israeli Assaf (whom I met in South America back in my backpacker days) to Leah, a fellow travel blogger I’ve come to see as a sort of big sister during the many years we’ve known one another.
My actual sister also visited me here, and though she still recalls her culture shock as profoundly as all the beauty we laid eyes upon together, the days we shared here are among my life’s most treasured.
I’ve studied Thailand’s language with moderate success, sampled its cuisine (the entrail-free dishes, anyway) to moderate excess and have wrapped myself in the kindness and hospitality of more friends and strangers than I could ever name or recall in detail befitting of their excellence. Thailand has brought me to tears and to my knees and, at times, to the point of displaying diva behavior that would make Mariah Carey blush.
As I’m sure you can tell if you’ve read this far, Thailand touches me in all the best and worst ways—I could write a book about my time here, yet spitting out these 500 words has proven almost as difficult as navigating Bangkok’s traffic at rush hour.
It’s my hope that the Thailand travel photos I’m about to share will better reflect the breadth and depth of my travels—my life—here, but I apologize in advance if I’m unable to do the past nine years justice. Here are 25 breathtaking photos which may just change your life.