From comments in travel forums to gossip in hostel bars, I’ve heard the criticisms of Thailand — it’s too mainstream, too easy, too crowded for an authentic experience. “Thailand is so overrated…go to Laos instead,” or “Myanmar is the only real place left in Southeast Asia.”

But in July I returned to Thailand for the third time and spent two weeks traveling in Bangkok and northern Thailand. And somewhere between a bareback elephant ride through the steaming Golden Triangle jungle and a $1 plate of sinfully rich stewed pork leg at a Chiang Mai night market, I realized these pretentious critics couldn’t be more wrong. Thailand is freaking awesome.

Brian’s trip was sponsored by: