I first visited Thailand in 2013 a few weeks after I had graduated from university. After a year of red bull fueled evenings filled with frantic essay writing/hair pulling/revision/procrastination I was determined to fill my life with fun and hedonism… And boy did I do that! My memory was shot and my organisation skills, previously admirable enough to drive me very successfully through academia had become non existent. I’m ashamed to say that my friend that my travelling buddy did 99% of the organisation for our trip and the day before we left I had barely even considered what I needed to take with me, let alone started packing.
In the following six weeks in Thailand, Cambodia and Singapore and I did what every traditional Thailand based holiday involves: buckets, beach parties, massages, more buckets… You get the idea. It was brilliant and a period of my life that I will never forget.
So when we were planning our Thailand visit this year I knew exactly what I DIDN’T want to do. I didn’t want to go back to the places I had been before, because, well I had done that once and wanted to experience something new. I also had this fear that if I re-visited those places, I would ruin the memories I had made the previous time. I am also, obviously, now three years older, in a committed relationship and a beacon of maturity. And so getting drunk and partying does not appeal to me in the slightest. (HA!)
So that’s why this itinerary misses out some of Thailand’s most popular destinations, eg Koh Pang Yang, Phi Phi, Phuket, Pattaya (does anyone still go there?!)… although I wouldn’t exactly say I strayed ‘off the beaten track’ (I hate that phrase so much!). This time round I had three things on my agenda (four if you include a tan, but that’s an ongoing goal): history, animals and diving.
We started off in Bangkok of course, extremely tired after a flight that was perfectly timed for virtually no sleep. It was too early to check in, so after a grumpy hour spent lying next to the hotel pool I agreed it was best for us to go straight out. This was only made possible by the promise to me of a shopping mall and food. I had a growing list of ‘essential’ toiletries after India and Sri Lanka and the prospect of actual shops with prices on items was too good to resist! We spent that entire day cruising the biggest mall in Bangkok and hit Koh San Road in the evening, had some street food and shamelessly drank buy one get one free buckets like teenage backpackers. OK, so I suppose this is a pretty stereotypical day in Thailand!
Unfortunately the fun was shortlived- I spent the next three days with painful stomach cramps which almost forced me the next day to reconsider our scheduled train to Kanchanaburi. Fortunately by crunch time I felt ok enough to get the train, but it wasn’t a pleasant journey! I have heard that they’ve now banned street food on Koh San road which despite my experience I do think is a shame. The street vendors selling all sorts (/mainly pad Thai) of cheap and delicious dishes is part of what makes the atmosphere so cool.
Anyway, one thing I did want to focus on this time round was history, so we decided to visit Kanchanaburi. This is a town made famous by the construction of the Thai-Burma Railway that Allied prisoners of war were forced to build by the Japanese during WWII. We spent a couple of days learning about the history, visiting museums and walked along a section of the old railway path. We went to the Bridge on the River Kwai but it is very touristy, people taking selfies and selling random tat along the side does not really do the history justice! You can read my previous post about what we did and learnt in Kanchanaburi here.
We returned to Bangkok the next day and flew to Chiang Mai after a long airport day. The next day we visited the Elephant Nature Park, which was an amazing day caring for recently rescued elephants from the tourist industry. I wrote a long post about this incredible day, so won’t repeat myself here! We returned to Chiang Mai and spent the next day wandering round looking at temples- a few child monks (not sure they are called monks when they are that young?!) approached us and asked us some questions for English homework which was quite fun. This seems to be a common assignment as has since happened countless times!
We took the windy bus to Pai and spent the next three days relaxing in the hammock outside our bungalow, reading, drinking cocktails and enjoying the laid back hippie atmosphere of the town. I entered into a daily battle with my boyfriend about how many tie dye tops one woman needs when travelling. One day we took a tour to see the sights around Pai, including bathing in the hot springs, Lodi Cave and Pai canyon. Watching the sunset at Pai Canyon, beer in hand, with a group of people that had only just met but that got along really well was an awesome feeling. The best part of this was that we all ended up friends and went out together in the evening too.
We took a bus, then flight from Pai to Koh Samui, then to Koh Lanta. We had booked a room in a hostel which turned out to be little more than a shack build around a tree. We had a private room which was so small the door barely closed once we had our backpacks inside, a lock you could rip off and a tin roof that did not reach the ‘walls’ (the side of the treehouse). However the night we arrived was St Patricks Day, so we got into the spirit, had a few drinks and went out with the crowd staying there. There were fun moments, but when we watched the manager of the hostel (so drunk she couldn’t even focus) get on her bike to go the next club in the early hours, we were filled with an indignant disapproval that made us speculate that we were now officially ‘mature’. Early the next morning we left, feeling about 20 years older than when we arrived. Neverthertheless we had a few nice days in Koh Lanta, the atmosphere is chilled, we went on a really good day trip snorkelling and enjoyed sunset beers/runs along the beach there.
The next destination was Koh Tao where we were to begin learning how to dive. An onset of food poisoning in Matt threatened to delay this, but he soldiered on through the first day of theory, despite looking like death warmed up! After four days we had both achieved our PADI and were new dive lovers! I also wrote a blog post about this, so won’t go on in depth (no pun intended) here. We left the island during torrential rain that turned the roads into rivers, we literally waded our way to the ferry port!
So that was our Thailand itinerary! I did miss partying slightly, but did not miss the seediness and sex tourism that is inescapable in some areas and sometimes makes me feel a little uncomfortable.
I will definitely be returning to Thailand for a third time as I absolutely love it! What are your favourite places in Thailand?