Sometimes you have to leave home to find yourself

By Breeanya Hinkel

My Thailand adventure began to take shape back in 2018 at Bend Hot Yoga in Prescott.  While getting ready to leave after another fantastic yoga class. I ran into a fellow class of ’97 Prescott High School alumni, Jennifer Lukavics Burns. While we were catching up she mentioned setting up a women’s travel group. Its first adventure would be to Thailand.  When she asked if I would be interested, I jumped at the chance and said: “Yes, of course, please put me on the list.”

After one year of planning, saving, and anticipation, ten women – nine from Prescott and one from Colorado (see group photo above) – headed off on what would become an amazing two-week journey.  After a 30-hour journey from PHX > LAX > HKG > CNX), our first stop was Chiang Mai, in the mountains of northern Thailand.

It is the second-largest city in Thailand and is home to hundreds of Buddhist Temples (Wats). After five days in Chiang Mai at the Aruntara Riverside Boutique Hotel, we flew south to the beach area of Phuket.  Phuket, a rainforested, mountainous island in the Andaman Sea, has some of Thailand’s most popular beaches, mainly situated along the clear waters of the western shore. We stayed in the area of Patong Beach at Deevana Plaza for another five days.  Read about our trip highlights for both Chiang Mai and Phuket below.

Chiang Mai Highlights:

Loy Krathong Festival

We arrived on the final night of the Loy Krathong Festival (when people gather around lakes, rivers, and canals to pay respects to the goddess of water by releasing beautiful lotus-shaped rafts, decorated with candles, incense, and flowers onto the water). Our local guide, Yaya, made sure we could participate by supplying us all with krathongs to float down the Ping River behind our hotel. We sent our respects, wishes, and silent hopes down the river to the goddess of water.

Yaya then weaved our group of tired-but-excited adventurous women through the night market booths until we reached the annual parade. Glitter, beautiful people, and smiles were everywhere as the parade floats made their way down the street, delighting both locals and tourists alike. We even caught a glimpse of Thailand superstar and award-winning actor, Nadech Kagimiya (also known as Barry).

After enjoying the parade festivities, we felt the need to try some of the delicacies of Thailand at the night market.  We dined on rolled ice cream, dumplings, spicy chicken, and even some scorpions and crickets made their way to our table. Boy, where those little buggers crunchy!

“Eating flash-fried grasshoppers and crickets is like eating a crunchy potato chip with eyes.” – Jaime Ellsworth

Jungle Elephant Sanctuary

For this adventure, we loaded up into three different SUVs. Our driver, Tong, drove us outside the city, way up into the mountains, and onto a dirt road that weaved itself along a cliff and then dropped down in the valley of the elephants.  Upon arrival, we changed into traditional shirts, grabbed a bushel of bananas and made our way down to the elephants. At first, being surrounded by such massive creatures was overwhelming, but they were gentle giants. We fed them the bananas and were able to pet them, hug them, and take photos with our new huge friends. We saw young elephants and old elephants, and even a pregnant elephant! After lunch, we changed into bathing suits and had the experience of a lifetime as we walked down to the mud bath area and got in the sticky slippery mud with elephants.  We covered them with mud, we threw mud, and the guides came by and put mud on us – whether we wanted it or not.

After every inch of the elephant and almost every inch of us was covered in mud, we then followed the elephants through the jungle back to the waterfall, where we rinsed off the elephants and ourselves.  The water was cool and refreshing! Once we were clean, we dried off, said goodbye to our new friends, and headed back to the city.

“Definitely a once in a lifetime experience! Being able to be so near and help such amazing creatures was the highlight of this trip for me personally. My favorite part was being able to bathe them. Life changing.” – Jennifer Lukavics Burns

Temple Tour

Our temple tour started way up on the Doi Suthep mountain top at Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. Visitors can choose to either walk the 309 steps to the entrance of the temple or take a tram to the top. The temple is beautiful. The pagoda is a glistening gold and we all purchased flowers and a candle to light in front of the pagoda and say a prayer or a wish. We had the honor of receiving a monk blessing as well.  The temple has an amazing view of the city and beautiful gold Buddha statues sit all around.

After a stop at the Orchid Jade Factory, we took our bus back down the mountain and into Chiang Mai to visit two more temples. The first was Wat Chedi Luang, which dates back to the 14th century. Some of the temple buildings at this location did not allow women to enter. Husbands or boyfriends were entering and taking photos to share with their significant others. There were many giant Buddha statues, and the temple hosts monk chats every day.

The third temple was Wat Suan Dok. We went into only one building here, and we got to see many monks amongst the grounds. The entrance was covered with beautiful paper lanterns.

The city of Chiang Mai was home to some very beautiful mosques.  It was so interesting to wake up to the call to prayer every day and look out upon the beautiful gold Minarets.

“The cultural experience was very enlightening.” – Terry Barnes

Thai Cooking Class & Traditional Thai Dinner

We traveled into a neighborhood within Chiang Mai to the Baan Hongnual Cooking School. In front of our cooking school, a family was hosting a ceremony, giving thanks that their grandmother had gotten well after many days of prayer to Buddha. We walked through while the music was playing and the family was giving thanks through dance. It was so wonderful to experience the happiness of the family and their neighbors.

At the cooking school our instructor, Ay, was a delight.  We all removed our shoes, put on blue aprons and white chef hats, and got to work.  They had us prepare all the ingredients for three main dishes and one dessert prior to cooking. We prepped for a curry dish (red or green); Tom Tom Yum or Kai, Pad Thai, and Mango Sticky Rice.  During the prep, Hay guided us through each step—and made us laugh along the way. After prepping all the meals, we sat down as a group and enjoyed what we created. It was such a fun way to learn about traditional Thai cooking and we even received a cookbook to bring home.

After a little downtime at the pool, we went to a Traditional Thai Dinner. We took our seats on the pillows on the floor and the servers came with trays of food.  The traditional music and dancing were beautiful and in the end, they asked us to join in on a traditional Thai dance.  The majority of our group gave it a try, and it was fun to feel a part of the locals’ traditions.

Phuket Highlights:

Phi Phi Island Tour

We went on a speed boat tour through the Phi Phi islands (an island group in Thailand, between the large island of Phuket and the Straits of Malacca coast of Thailand). We stopped at three different islands and throughout the day we swam and snorkeled in the ocean, watched monkeys catch bananas in a cave, swam next to Maya Bay where Leonardo Dicaprio filmed the movie The Beach (Maya Bay is currently closed to tourists due to environmental concerns), watched fish also enjoy pieces of banana, basked in the greatness of how the sky and sea became one, drank out of coconuts, danced by the sea, enjoying the turquoise waters, laughed with our tour guide, sat on top of the boat with the crew, and raced fellow speed boats. It was a day to remember.

“The Phi Phi Islands were an unforgettable experience for me. I loved spending all day on a boat and snorkeling and swimming in the crystal clear turquoise water.” – Alexis Miller

“I remember looking out across the amazing turquoise water that day and just being at complete peace at where I was and who I was that day.  I thought, to myself, this is truly finding oneself.” – Breeanya Hinkel 

ATV & White Water Rafting Adventure

Some of the women in our group went on a jungle ATV and White Water Rafting adventure. Good times were had by all as they weaved their ATVs through the mud and narrowly escaped ending up in the river.  After a fun-filled ATV adventure, they hopped into rafts and floated (and bumped) their way down the river.

“The rafting tour was exhilarating! Our guides had us twisting and turning down the river! We even had some water fights with other boats! There was a lot of laughing and screaming! It was a wonderful experience!” – Laura Cawthorne

James Bond Island Long Boat Tour & Floating Muslim Village

Another day, another amazing boat tour. This time we loaded into our own private longboat.  We were able to spread out, each of us on her own bench seat while we skirted across the water toward Khao Phing Kan (James Bond Island), which is located about four miles from the mainland. This is a popular destination and was crowded with boats and tourists when we arrived. The highlight is the 66-foot-tall islet, Ko Ta Pu, which was made famous by the James Bond Movie The Man with the Golden Gun. This island also features caves and a beautiful limestone cliff tumbled sideways and leaned on a similar rock in the center of the land.

After exploring Khao Phing Kan, we loaded back into our longboat and headed to Ko Panyi, a fishing village in Phang Nga Province, Thailand, notable for being built on stilts by Indonesian fishermen. The population consists of 360 families or 1,685 people descended from two seafaring Muslim families from Java. We enjoyed a traditional lunch here while floating above the water and admiring the colorful structures that appear to come straight out of the water. We then visited a popular highlight of the Ko Pany – a floating football pitch. Inspired by the 1986 FIFA World Cup, children built the pitch from old scraps of wood and fishing rafts. As of 2011, Panyee FC is one of the most successful youth soccer clubs in Southern Thailand, and the boys who built the pitch back in 1986 are now grown men.

Memories of this trip will continue to pop up in my daily routine for months to come.  I am so glad I was able to join fellow adventurous women on this journey and make new friendships. The trip meant different things to each of the women; Michelle Crawford said, “our family has had a very difficult past three years.  The fact that both my daughter (Jaime) and I were able to go on this trip is a testament to our strength and a reminder that every day is a gift; live it now.”

“Taking a trip like this with my mom was very special to me. We have both endured so much in the last few years and being together was a bonding experience of a lifetime.” – Jaime Ellsworth

For more information about upcoming women’s travel trips, or to plan an adventure of your own, reach out to Jennifer Lukavics Burns with Dream Travel Management at 808.320.0117.

Experience Adventures of the Heart with Dream Travel

Travel the World, With a Purpose

The purpose of Dream Travel Management is to help provide a way for everyday women to live extraordinary lives by pursuing their dreams of exploring this beautiful world in all its colors, textures, tastes, and sounds, while making a difference. Travel with purpose is the name of the game.

Each Dream Travel Adventure incorporates a unique opportunity of spreading goodness and volunteering around the world. Each traveler experiences sharing her heart with others while nourishing her own soul.

Dream Travel Management provides a way for women to travel safely in numbers, learn about the local cultures, and experience once-in-a-lifetime, life-changing opportunities, while making lifelong lasting friendships with like-minded adventurers.

Your world will literally never be the same. Take that chance and come reignite your spark for life and adventure! 


“Life is meant for spectacular adventures.  Let your feet wander, your eyes marvel and your soul ignite.”— SLVC Writer


For more information on upcoming adventures, contact Jennifer Burns at or 808.320.0117.


Upcoming Adventures include an all-women’s travel group to Peru (including Machu Picchu) in September and October 2020, a co-ed adventure to New Zealand in February 2021, and an all-women’s travel group to Greece in May 2021.