Last August I went to Thailand for 23 days. Me and my mom have been dreaming of going there together for a while, as she said it felt like home when she was there over 20 years ago.
About the flights, Thai Airways do very good promotions on direct flights from London to Bangkok or Emirates with one stop at Dubai is a very good option too.
- Always smile and don’t argue with Thai people. Thailand is known as the “Land of Smiles”, and Thai people are the most open, friendly and smiley people I ever met. Although be careful when arguing with them, they can get very upset, especially taxi drivers.
- They love when foreigners talk to them in Thai, so here are some important words: Thank you is Khob Khun Ka (you really need to say it like khob-khun-kaaaaa) if you’re female or Khob Khun Kap if you’re male. Hello is Sawadee Ka/Kap.
- The context of “clean” for Thai people is a bit different from our occidental context, so be aware of that.
- Dress accordingly. If you are visiting temples, please respect the Thai culture. Cover your shoulders and knees. Usually men can’t wear shorts. If it’s too hot for you, you can try carrying a scarf with you to cover the shoulder/knee area before entering the temples.
- Thai people don’t like to show affects in public. Please don’t kiss or hug in public, as it is disrespectful for them. Holding hands it’s ok.
- Make sure you have your vaccines in date and take some antibiotics with you. There’s a 99% of chance you will get diarrhoea so make sure you get some imodium with you in case you need. I had the hep A, B and typhoid fever vaccines. But you can get more info about vaccination here: Fit for travel.
- Forget about “not eating in the street”. You can tell what’s fresh and what’s not, so please embrace Thai street food and try everything. That’s what I liked most about Thailand, the food. I miss a lot the fresh mango and banana shakes.
- Keep in mind that when entering a temple you should always remove your shoes and never point your feet to Buddha.
- If you need anything, especially cheap food, head to a 7 Eleven. It never disappoints! The cheese and sausage hot sandwich is a must.
- Internet: I bought a AIS SIM card at the airport which cost me around 600 THB. I’ve been searching and AIS covered a bigger area than TrueMove or DTAC. It worked fine for me.
- Be careful when crossing the road. Just breath in, breath out, close your eyes and go!
- Always take a pocket raining poncho with you. It can rain a lot, anywhere, anytime.
Let’s start from the chaotic Bangkok.
We stayed at Dang Derm in The Park just in the middle of the famous Khao San Road. The breakfast was very good and tasty. We were lucky as our room was not facing the road, so it was very quiet. Make sure when you book a place it has A/C, not just because of the heat but especially because of bugs and mosquitoes.
In Bangkok, I recommend you to walk around the Khao San Road and old town area and visit some not very touristic temples so you can feel the spirit of Buddhism.
Tuk-tuks are a must, but be careful. Never trust someone saying “oh this Temple is closed today, I’ll take you to another one” because you might end inside a shop obliged to buy things. If you want a tuk-tuk ride, state your destination and price.
We stayed 4 days in Bangkok. In my opinion, you shouldn’t miss this places:
- The Grand Palace
- Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn)
- Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha)
- Wat Traimit (Temple of the Golden Buddha)
- Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha). Be sure you have a Thai massage there, as there is the tradicional medical school.
Visit Chinatown. Then you can visit Siam area and discover the modern Bangkok. If you like shopping, don’t miss Asiatique. The best way to travel in Bangkok is by boat or via Skylink. I really enjoy Lebua’s sky bar, even if a bit overpriced. There are a lot of sky bars in Bangkok and the views are stunning!
On the last picture you can see the famous Durian fruit, which is forbidden to transport or eat in most public places. You should give it a try… I won’t comment about it’s flavour, just give it a try and you may love it!
From Bangkok you can take daily tour to Damnoen Saduak Floating Market and the Maeklong Train Market. If you want to avoid tourist, don’t go to this places. There are more local floating market in Bangkok, but they just open especially on Saturdays. Anyway, I really enjoyed both markets.
After 4 intense days in Bangkok, we headed to the ancient city of Ayutthaya by train. The ticket was very cheap and it took us 3 hours to get there, from Bangkok Hua Lamphong Railway Station, where you can buy the ticket. The train takes around 2 hours.
Once arrived, we left our luggage at the station and we went on a 5 hour tuk-tuk ride around the historical park for 400 THB. They give you a map and you can state where you want to stop. Our driver was very nice so he took us where we wanted to go and waited for us outside the temples. Ayutthaya is mystical. It is about 80km north of Bangkok and it was the capital of the Kingdom of Siam. In 1767 the city was destroyed by the Burmese army, so its ruins are preserved in the historical park, which is recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can see almost all of it in one day.
Our first stop was in the Portuguese Village (Baan Portuget). Portuguese were the first Europeans to settle in Siam, arriving in the 16th century.
Then we headed to Wat Phutthaisawan, Wat Chai Watthanaram, Wat Mahathat (where you can find the well know Head of the Buddha with tree trunks and roots growing around it), Wat Phra Si Sanphet, Wat Ratchaburana, Wat Lokaya Sutharam (where you can find a big reclining Buddha and Wat Phra Ram.
After a long day in this ancient city, we took the night train to Chiang Mai.
The train is very well equipped. If you want to have dinner at the train, be sure you get settled and head straight away to the restaurant where they serve really nice food before the crowds arrive. We took first class, but second class didn’t look bad either, the only difference is that we had a private room and access to a shower.
Chiang Mai… What an incredible city! It’s the largest city of northern Thailand. It means “New City”. We stayed at Mandala House, a very cosy place with a walkable distance to the city centre.
You can see there are a lot of foreigners living there. The city is full of lovely temples. Just get lost within the old city walls and discover the temples by yourself. You can rent a scooter, use public trucks (the local buses) or walk.
If you have time, please visit Doi Suthep Mountain, where you can visit the Wat Phra That. Takes approximately 1 hour round trip from the Chiang Mai University. Prepare yourself to climb 300 steps through the Naga Serpent staircase, or if you’re felling lazy you can take the lift. The temple is very sacred, so please respect. You can have a very nice view over Chiang Mai from the balcony.
If you have time, go to the Bhubing Palace, where you can appreciate nice flowers (especially roses) and giant butterflies. The dress code is very restrict here, so no scarves covering body parts are allowed.
If you like eating and shopping, go to the Night Bazaar. There’s a lot of nice food. Try the spicy sausages and the tradicional soups from the northern Thailand.
Not far from Chiang Mai there are a lot of elephant sanctuaries. After an extensive research, we decided to go to the Elephant Nature Park. On this elephant sanctuary, the animals are rescued and free to live and do what they want. Elephants are not meant to be ridden by tourists, so in this place you can feel, feed, wash and play with them. They also rescue dogs, cats and other endangered animals. They have a voluntary program, so you can go and help to take care of the animals.
It was a dream come true. This giants of nature are the most docile and sensitive beings I ever met. I saw elephants without a paw that had been rescued from mine camps and others rescued from tourist attractions with mental problems and with a lot of fears. Remember that an elephant never forgets… For them to be ridden it takes a lot of training and with that comes mistreatment. So please don’t ride the elephants and say no to animal tourism!
From Chiang Mai we took a taxi to Chiang Rai. It was the quickest way we found and it was decently cheap. We stayed at Saikaew Resort. It’s a very nice place to stay. They always have tea and coffee available and bikes for you to explore around. Chiang Rai is a very quiet city, where you can rent a bike/scooter and travel around its temples, streets and markets.
In the city centre there is a Clock Tower which has a show of lights and music at 7, 8 or 9pm everyday. There are a lot of temples, like the Wat Phra Kaew with an amazing Emerald Buddha, Wat Phra That Doi Tung or Wat Phra Sing.
From Chiang Rai, you can rent a scooter or take a one day taxi tour to the Wat Rong Khun (the White Temple) and to the Wat Rong Sear Tean (the Blue Temple), which were the most beautiful temples I’ve seen. Make sure you get there early just before its opening if you want to avoid the crowds. This temples are contemporary and the Blue Temple is still under construction so it’s very interesting to see how a temple is built. You can also visit the Golden Triangle, where Myanmar, Laos and Thailand meet, if you wish. It has been one of the most extensive opium-producing areas of the world. Some say it’s a tourist trap, but I found it very interesting, especially to know how the Doi Tung Development Project, which helps Thais find jobs outside the poppy business, worked and it still works as a model for other nations.
From Chiang Rai we flew to Phuket with Vietjetair. Their crew is very polite and the onboard service is great, besides the cheap prices.
We stayed 1 night in Patong Beach at Patong Lodge Hotel. I have no words to describe Patong. Once a very famous beach and holiday package site, now it’s full of scams and kathoeys (lady boys) who try to get you into some dirty businesses. If you’re up to that kind of stuff, then go for it! Don’t get me wrong, I met very nice lady boys during my stay in Thailand.
From Phuket we went to Koh Yao Yai, where we stayed for 3 days. It’s halfway between Phuket and Krabi. If you want to avoid the tourist crowds, this is the place to go! We stayed at Better View Koh Yao Yai. They have lovely bungalows and they serve an amazing breakfast. It’s the perfect place to chill and relax. You can also rent a scooter and travel around the island, discovering its secluded beaches and nature.
After Koh Yao Yai we took a speedboat to Ao Nang and from there a longtail boat to Railay Beach. I must say this last one was the worst boat trip I ever had in my life (and I’m not afraid of boats as I’ve rowed for many years). They put you inside the boat with too many people and the sea is very agitated so there’s water coming in from all over the place. I would recommend you to take a backpack and not a trolley, as sometimes you have to get in and out of the boat in the middle of the water and then walk to the beach. No, I’m not exaggerating. Now that I think about it, it was fun.
Railay Beach is a very nice place to stay, not as crowded as other islands as Phi Phi and you can take day tours from there to the surrounding islands.
We stayed at Sand Sea Resort for 3 days, just in front of the beach. When in Railay, just go to the east side towards Phra Nang Beach. The patinais full of amazing stalagmites. This beach is full of life! There are monkeys trying to steal your bags searching for food, eagles, giant butterflies, big reptiles and, of course, chinese tourists… I love chinese people, but when they are out of their country and in big groups they are very disrespectful towards others. People describe it as one of the best beaches in Thailand and now I know why! You can see a lot of beautiful longtail boats, do some kayaking and there’s also a cave full of phalluses figures, most made of wood. If you wonder why, this is named as “Princess Cave”, where fishermen, before going out to the sea, have made offerings to the symbolic Phallus of Shiva. Some fishermen still come to make their offerings to the princess.
Next and last stop of this trip: Koh Tao, the turtle island. We stayed over for 5 days and I wish we had stayed longer…
To arrive there, we took a boat from Railay East to Don Sak and we stayed overnight at Wanghin Bungalow. We took the free transfer to the Don Sak Pier and then the Lomprayah speedboat to Koh Tao, which stops in other islands as Koh Pha Ngan. We stayed in a lovely place with an amazing view called Ko Tao Resort, Paradise Zone.
What to say about Koh Tao? Koh Tao is a living dream and I didn’t want to leave.
They might call it “The Death Island” and all those terrible things, but people there are so genuine, nice and peaceful. I went so afraid and that’s why I really hate the British media, they just like to spread fear. Tourists need to understand that in Thailand the culture is different and that you can’t just argue, complain or be rude like you normally do in your country to Thai people because this is the land of smiles and every problem is solved by smiling. Just be humble, don’t get too drunk, respect Thai culture, use common sense and stay away from drugs. If you’re coming to Thailand, please do yourself a favour and visit Koh Tao.
If you like diving, Koh Tao is the place! The best times to go are from July to September.
Top things to do:
- Go on a snorkelling trip. I really enjoyed Oxigen one.
- Visit Koh Nang Yuan. This island is private, so there’s an entrance fee and you can’t take plastic bottles or beach towels in. You can get there on a snorkelling trip or by renting a taxi boat. The island closes at 5pm and the entrance fee is 100THB, but believe me it’s worth it all! I recommend coming early to avoid the tours. Go to the viewpoint and enjoy the stunning view. Then, enjoy snorkelling around the island!
- Enjoy the fire shows at Lotus Beach Bar, which starts from 9pm onwards up to 11pm.
- Visit all the bays and beaches (bear in mind some of them have entrance fees) such as Freedom Beach, Mango Bay, Sairee Beach, Chalok Baan Kao Bay, Shark Bay and many other. You can get more info here: Koh Tao Complete Guide.
From Koh Tao we took a speedboat and a bus to Chumpon and we took a flight with Nok Air back to Bangkok. I wish I had more time to explore all the Thai Koh’s… Especially Koh Lipe.
Thailand, I’ll be definitely back!