The last time FELIX spoke to Michael Roark, he was amidst a balancing act of aligning two successful careers into one busy schedule. His familiar face exudes a captivating Midwestern charm and is recognizable on shows including: Rizzoli & Isles, Royal Pains, FOX’s drama Sleepy Hollow, CBS’s Stalker and ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy, plus he recently completed a recurring arc on MTV’s Finding Carter.
But Roark’s talent doesn’t stop there – he starred in a stage production, Colleagues, in Santa Monica, at The Ruskin Group Theater last fall and he devotes time throughout the year to giving back to the community. His charitable efforts include serving as the Los Angeles Chairman for EveryPersonHasAStory.org and supporting the Hollywood chapter of Habitat for Humanity. Having such a busy schedule does require a little time off, so Roark turned off his “workaholic” mode and took a break to explore one of Southeast Asia’s most beautiful countries, Thailand. He shares his adventures on the quest for some real R&R and finds comfort in throwing back cold brews, chowing down on insects and street meat, and discovering exactly how to live like a local.
Roark plays tour guide to Thailand’s most fascinating cities: Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Ko Phi Phi.
Overview: Bangkok gives you a healthy dose of the history and culture that makes Thailand such a great place. If you have an extended trip then settle in, you can really take your time with this city…if not then a few days is all you will need. It’s a hot, bustling place so if you are like me and always on the go when traveling, after a few days you will have a good feel for the place and be ready to move on.
Must – See: Temples – Wat Arun, Grand Palace, Sleeping Buddha and many others
Khaosan Road, China Town, Silom area and Snake Museum (Downtown)
Things to Do: The Temples are incredible to visit but if you visit temples for days they will all start looking the same after a while. Take a day or two and knock out the temples you really want to see, a few of the major ones listed above.
Cruise around on the Tuk Tuks, ride the riverboat taxi (there are private expensive ones, but the public one is much cheaper and gets you the ride) get your fill of 5 and 10 dollar massages and walk the street market around the Grand Palace. Head to Chinatown and take it all in. It’s the Thailand off the beaten path that every westerner should see.
Nightlife: Spend time hanging out in Khaosan Road, it’s your backpacker/internationals hotspot during the day and at night the place turns into Spring Break. Dance and drink in the streets, get a sidewalk massage or three and go ahead and try the bbq’d insects. You can also head downtown to check out the red light district and take in a ping pong show which….yeah…its that kind of ping pong show.
Also – Muay Thai Match (for the real experience, the one in Chiang Mai was more touristy) and weekend floating markets.
Food: Make sure you try Mango & Sticky Rice. As for booze, if you are beer drinker just buy Changs at a 7-11 (which are everywhere) for a dollar. Food, you cant go wrong anywhere, try anything and everything but If you go for the street meat just make sure it hasn’t been sitting out too long, not the time to be taking chances.
Transportation: Tuk Tuks (motorized carts) are everywhere and they are kick ass! They are really best way to see the city and you catch a good breeze in them as well. They are cheap depending on the driver but know that you can bargain with them down to as much as 50%, or more depending on how good of a negotiator you are. At some point you will be offered a deal where you agree to let them take you to a suit shop around town and you stop in for 10-15 minutes. Just accept it, it’s part of the racket and part of the Bangkok experience.
What to Know: There is likely to be gridlock traffic at high times, some of which may be due to protests (I was lucky to get out before the military coup) but there is bad traffic in this city regardless. If you catch yourself in a jam, hop a ride with a dude on a motorbike but watch your ass, because he’s going weave in and out of traffic with little regard to how close you or your backpack may be to other drivers.
CHIANG MAI (Country)
Overview: Once you have had your fill of Bangkok head to Northern Thailand to the ridiculously pleasant city of Chiang Mai. Sure you can hop a flight but I recommend taking the night train. At this point you will need a good night sleep that only the train can provide and you will wake up to some great early morning country views as you cruise into town. Chiang Mai is not a big city, but its one where you could just settle in for months and the air is much crisper and cleaner than Bangkok. In Chiang Mai you have the town and you have the country and you NEED to see both.
Must – See: Temples – Doi Suthep, Wat Phra Sing, Wat Chedi Luang
Night Bazaar, Maesa Waterfall and any and all on Maerim Road.
Chiang Mai city/Old town is located smack in the middle of Chiang Mai, surrounded by water on all sides. It’ a good thing you got your fill of temples in Bangkok cause there are only a few major temples to see here, but you will not have a hard time filling your days.
Things To Do: Chiang Mai is where you put it back into cruise control, there is no reason to rush it here. You can just hoof it through Old Town, some very cool stores and shops that give it an almost a sleepy beach town feel. Head down Tha Phae Road to check out the night bazaar, which is an impressive looking street market, buy yourself some fisherman’s pants and wear them proud or just gear up with some more clothes cause if you are doing the backpacker thing you are only traveling with a couple shirts anyway.
DO get yourself a motorbike and head up to Doi Suthep. The Temple is the best I saw in all of Thailand but the ride is really what makes it. You can stop at viewpoints along the way, at the Maesa Waterfall or head over to Tiger Kingdom or Elephant Village. If you are determined to get on an elephant while in Thailand, jump on the day excursion deals which are not hard to find, you can also go hiking, check out the old Longneck Village, head white water rafting and play with elephants and tigers amongst other things. Do know that the tigers at tiger kingdom may or may not be drugged despite what they tell you. I did not go for that reason. I did not see any mistreatment of elephants on my excursion and was able to give the ole girl a bath after our stroll so she got hers too.
Food: If you were not brave enough to go for the street meat in Bangkok, go for it here, try anything and everything. If you are a Midwest guy like me then you like to eat big and the portions are going to seem small (that goes for all of Thailand), especially with you on the move all day. So don’t be shy about ordering 2 dinners at restaurants, I sure wasn’t!
Transportation: There are tuk tuks and taxis but you can rent a motorbike for cheap. They will take your passport as deposit, so I suggest spending a few extra bucks on a nice hotel, (costing the same as a hostel in Bangkok) and they will deliver the motorbike to you along with some peace of mind. Don’t be nervous, it’s much safer to drive here than in Bangkok, and it’s not bad navigating the roads and it may prove to be one of the best things you do your entire trip, as it was for me.
KO PHI PHI (Island)
Overview: Okay you saw the city, you saw the country…now its time for the beach! Hop a flight on Air Asia down to Phuket. Why Phuket? It’s your jump off point to the island because you can’t fly directly to Ko Phi Phi from Chiang Mai and you need to see Phuket’s Patong Beach nightlife anyway. It’s Red Light District meets Bourbon Street with everyone trying to sell you stuff you don’t need. There are literally a dozen choices of islands to check out, I chose Ko Phi Phi and was not disappointed. From Phuket hop a short ferry over to Ko Phi Phi and now you are on island time.
Must – See: Island – Viewpoint, Fireshows along Loh Dalum Bay, Bamboo Island, Maya Bay, Monkey Beach.
Things To Do: The locals are very easy going, as are most island hoppers, and eager to show you a good time. You must head up to the View Point to catch a sunset view of the island but bring your bug spray and no whining for the stair climb up. There are so many boats coming in and out of Loh Dalum Bay (the primary beach area) and so much partying on it at night that the water is not that clean, but you make up for that once you get offshore. Once the sun goes down the fire shows start and from Slinky Beach Bar to Woody’s to Ibiza Beach Bar, it’s a party. If you are not into that scene – no worries, Chill Out Bar is right in the mix…grab a hammock and a bucket of booze, a hookah or a banana smoothie and take in the nonsense and the island serenity with your island kitty buddy…they are never too far away.
Take a long boat tour to some great snorkeling spots and some of the most amazing beach you have ever seen. The best include Maya Bay (popularly known as location “The Beach” was filmed) Monkey Beach, (monkeys greet you at the shore) and Bamboo Island which I can not really put into words. Find a quiet spot on Bamboo shed the clothes and bathe naked in the sea, hardest part will be getting back on the longboat to leave.
Food: I found killer Pad Thai on the island, they sell booze buckets which do the trick, just don’t be try to be a hero.
Transportation: If you want to get offshore there are no shortage of options, otherwise your sandals will take you where you need to go.
Thanks Michael for sharing your adventures with FELIX and giving us the inside scoop on where to go and what to do in the beautiful country of Thailand! You can catch him as Shay on the season two premiere of MTV’s “Finding Carter” on March 31st @10/9 Central and stay up to date on his next projects on IMDB, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.