Stefanie Wich-Herlein takes us on an escape through the magnificent journey of Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Photography by: Stefanie Wich-Herlein Born and raised in Germany, Stefanie Wich-Herrlein has been living in Shanghai. Her passions are her passport and traveling makes her smile ever since – she has started exploring the world for the first time on her own, back in 2007. Since then she has traveled almost to 50 countries and counting. When Stefanie was only 21 years old, she did her first big transcontinental trip by herself to Cape Town, South Africa, for a documentary-making agency internship. Stefanie says she was hungry for an escape, distance, freedom and something extraordinary – which she should definitely find in South Africa. Her internship, allows her to have the opportunity to enter the local townships, met the poorest of the poor and joined the campaign team for local elections. She cannot really state how much it has benefited her Media Management studies, yet, one thing for sure for Stefanie; her journey helped her to see her own life with different eyes. Stefanie felt this was her first real journey.
During Spring/Summer 2009 on her Post-Graduation break, she went on a four-month backpacking trip across Central America. It was back then she has started documenting her unique experiences while traveling countries like; Guatemala, Belize, Mexico, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama on a personal travel blog. After entering the work life, her available time for vacations cut short to only two or three-week period or sometimes she has only the weekend- trips. Although, this does not hold her back from traveling. In 2013, she established her travel blog – www.Smile4Travel.de with an intention to share her travel experiences and to empower everyone, the magnificence of the world and to proof with, only a few weeks of time on your hands, everyone can explore the world and discover its beauty. In the meantime, Stefanie is based in Shanghai which is, far away from home. However, on her blog – Smile4Travel.de, she continues to make her readers be part of her daily discoveries, challenges and travel experiences in and around Shanghai and China. That’s when Stefanie start to embark on her journey.
Stefanie’s passion is traveling and she has discovered it long before she even had the opportunity to leave her comfort zone for the job. Back in Germany, she used to work as an Online Editor and PR Manager for one of the biggest German tour operators for six years. From this work experience, at the same time, this enables Stefanie to combine her passion for traveling, starting her career and making a living. Stefanie says, traveling on her own, equipped only with a backpack & camera, this has always been a fascinating thing to her. Thus, once she just left to explore the world, which back then she only knew it from and admired it out of (picture) books. Since that moment, Stefanie was driven by getting to know foreign cultures and ways of living, trying out the unknown and growing beyond herself. Stefanie never ever really felt homesick, yet more often “suffered” from intense wanderlust. As she loves exploring, writing, and photography, her mission is to share her experiences, individual travel tips and personal insights combined with, eye-catching pictures on her blog (www. smile4travel.de) and Instagram @Smile4Travel, where she has 32,000 global followers.
In terms of turning a passion for traveling into a career, Stefanie wouldn’t call it a proper career yet, as she is not earning enough money from her blog for a living. Yet, since she had given up her full-time job in Germany one year ago, and started living & breathing in Shanghai together with her husband, she finally got the opportunity to focus more on her blog, writing, and photography. Stefanie has started to publish all her articles bilingually both in German and English, to reach a wider audience. Nowadays, Stefanie is aiming to reach outside of Germany and looked into ways of how to professionalize her blog. Stefanie says it is not always as shiny and easy as it seems. Of course, people mainly see her pictures on Instagram and read her stories on Smile4Travel.de and tend to have the impression of her whole life is a holiday. Yet, there is a lot of work behinds it and not every travel feels like a vacation. Nonetheless, Stefanie’s flexibility in time and location gave her the opportunity to explore lots of new places in 2018 and she will definitely hold onto her passion and continue her journey from becoming a passionate writer and photographer to a “professional traveler”.
Together with her husband Stefanie has been traveling quite a few to some Asian countries already such as; Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Cambodia, Philippines, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka. Stefanie and her husband love Southeast Asia very much, the ease of traveling there in Asia, the friendliness of people, the variety of great food and the diversity of its countries. Yet, somehow they haven’t made it to Thailand earlier, even it is known as the easiest and most comfortable Southeast Asian country, with regards to travel and tourism. Stefanie guessed this was exactly the reason that was holding them back. They kind of had the impression that Thailand was too touristy for them already. Though they would always keep it in mind, Thailand the country that they definitely wanted to visit, especially since moving to Shanghai which, offers them the “Thai Kingdom” almost on their doorstep.
Stefanie’s very first trip to Thailand has finally become a solo-trip, when she went for a 10-days Yoga retreat and raw-fast to Koh Phangan in May 2018. Yes, you read correctly: Koh Phangan, the island best known for its intense (full-moon) parties. But what she experienced, on Koh Phangan was the total opposite. Stefanie says, she never had such a relaxed time, she even got the chance to calm down and somehow found her inner peace in the gorgeous Thai island. Thus, she was more convinced than ever. Stefanie says, Thailand must also have some really unexpected sides and everyone should definitely give the country a fair chance themselves- the “Smile4Travel”- way! And so they booked them in for a dive-trip on a liveaboard around the Similan Islands over Christmas, had an easy remote New Year’s Eve on Koh Yao Noi and they finally explored the wilder North of Thailand, with its cultural highlights around Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai.
Stefanie says, Thailand has a huge coastline and various (still not overcrowded) islands, where people can just relax and enjoy easy island life. The nature on the islands and the mainland, including countless national parks makes it a paradise for nature-lovers. The diving opportunities are great as well, which is always an important point for choosing their next holiday destination, ever since we have certified as Open Water Divers in Bali a few years ago. Then there is this huge cultural heritage, which differs a lot from the North to the South. The most impressive temples that Stefanie has seen so far, were located in Northern Thailand. Stefanie says, that people could travel to Thailand several times, always exploring something totally new for each visit. The interaction with the Thai people completes Stefanie’s trip to Thailand, because of their super friendly and helpful nature. Last but not least, of course, the food. Thai-food is Stefanie’s favorite Asian cuisine, she could easily come back to Thailand over and over again only for this.
Stefanie has been to a lot of cities in Thailand so far, yet she chose Chiang Mai to be as one of her travel hubs when exploring the North of Thailand in December. Somehow, she had huge expectations to Chiang Mai, is one of the most relaxed cities, where she can feel the vibe. Honestly, she couldn’t find this in Chiang Mai, at least not until she rented a scooter and went to explore the surroundings on their own. They somehow found Chiang Mai overcrowded and touristy, not representing the Northern Thai spirit that they had hoped to find. From exploring Chiang Mai, it led them to Chiang Rai, a smaller city, even further up North, closer to Myanmar border. Stefanie describes Chiang Mai simply quiet of the impressive. It has unique temples, like the White and Blue Temple, the streets were not too overcrowded, there were night bazaars, and a beautiful lush green of mountain landscapes surrounding.
Stefanie says it is always worth to walk your own paths and actually hope to also get lost every once in a while, not only relying on what we have been reading about or seen on fancy Instagram pictures. For Stefanie, the secret of traveling still lies in exploring the country on her own and getting involved without expecting too specific things in advance. Since Instagram became a huge travel inspiration platform, where people post perfect photos without showing the reality of some of these popular Instagram hotspots, Stefanie believes our travel habits have changed. From time to time she also found herself scrolling through her Instagram feed and putting destinations on her bucket list, only because she found great photos. Yet, Stefanie says sometimes we are dazzled by these perfect set-up sceneries, which actually are far from being the reality. Her trip to Thailand reminded her once more how important it is to just hop onto new adventures and go with the flow rather than putting yourself under pressure, which spots you want to cross off the list after having your pictures taken of. Stefanie says traveling should be more about the personal experience on the way – rather than re-living or fulfilling the expectation of others.