My love affair with Thailand
On the 27th September 2009, I flew to Thailand for my third time (Alan’s second time). Five years ago, I spent a great deal of time here as part of my world travels. I had left just before the Tsunami struck on Boxing day. This devastated the island of Phuket and this journey allowed me to see the aftermath of such natural disaster.
There is something for everyone, in the north, you get to experience a more agricultural side of life. There are plenty of Rice paddy fields. Thailand exports more rice than any other country in the world. The best rice to go for is the Thai Fragrant Rice (available at all major supermarkets). This is also where a lot of the mountain and hill tribe treks take place as I experienced last time.
The Hill Tribe
Hill tribe families live in small communities secluded from the outer world. There is no electricity let alone hot water. Usually the only way to get to them is by trekking through the hills. They also have their very own unique language that is very different from Thai or any other hill tribe community. Thailand is full of natural beauty from magnificent islands, beaches to secluded lush green forests and waterfalls.
For my third visit, we decided to visit new areas of the country, we travelled up to Kanchanaburi, for Hellfire Pass and The Death Railway. Hellfire Pass is the name of a railway cutting, famed for its cost in life, on the Death Railway in Thailand, known by the Japanese as Konyu cutting. It was built in World War II, in part by POWs. Work by torchlight at night gave the pass its name.
World War II British prisoners of war were forced by the Imperial Japanese Army to build a bridge for the “Death Railway”, so named because of the large number of prisoners and conscripts who died during its construction.
On a brighter note, we also flew into bustling Bangkok and Phuket which you’ll find out more about below.
We arrived here on Sunday in what felt like the longest plane journey of my life. I had been on the plane at 6am earlier on Saturday for a flight connection between Glasgow to London Heathrow, it was there I met up with Alan. After many long queues in what seemed like a shithole of an airport, we finally boarded from Heathrow to Muscat, Muscat to Bangkok.
We flew into Bangkok’s new Suvarnabhumi airport which had previously been plagued with problems causing it to switch all operations back to its old airport until now. It was big and very impressive, a trend set all over Asia. It was then I thought that Eastern airports always seemed to be more modern than those in Western countries.
In our bus trip way into the city, we met Steve, a guy from Nottingham? Birmingham, whatever ham… The guys left all of the planning to me as I’ve already been here before, so I was keeping my eyes open in a hope of recognising a street. With the help of a friendly bus condutor, we got off in Thanon __ just five minutes away from bar street Khao San Road.
Thanon Khao San (Road) is still the busy back-packers paradise, a street filled with bars and fake knock-offs. My surprise was to find how developed the street had changed from once where local Thais had trade, to a westernised influences and ownership which is’nt really a pretty site. Since my last visit to this country in 2004, the big changes are the growth in commercialism. Instantly you notice western companies which have set up sites aggressively. Boots the pharmacists have stores in every corner and seem to be popular with the locals.
Alan and I went to see the giant golden Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho where we also had a massage by the students of the Thai Massage School, lets just say it was the best feeling ever. The woman hit every spot. At 220 baht, approx 3 pounds, a bargain. We also visited the Emerald Buddha at the Grand Palace. It was a very warm day which made it uncomfortable to walk outside for long periods. The joys of air-conditioning… such as contrast back home.
Last night, we met American chicks Brie and Nicole from Alabama who fancied goin to strip shows (not to sound like jus us) so as a double whammy, we’ve now been to both female and male shows, its mad but we had a great time… The weather here is hot, as is the talent, hot thais and westerners, like Abercrombie models. We’ve been trying out Thai food in places beyond where travellers would go but that are busy with locals, the people here are still as nice and welcoming as before. Thai food is spicy and exciting.
On Wednesday night (28 March 2007) we took a train to Chiang Mai. Although it was supposed to be 12 hours, it ended up being delayed by hours. We bumped into Steve again whom we met at the airport. I was prepared to bypass the touts this time round and we eventually got to our Nice hostel on Alan’s first Tuk Tuk ride.
Chiang Mai is in the north and is Thailand’s second largest city with a population of 170,000. It is by contrast alot calmer and smaller than Bangkok. With lots of farm and country side it is not surprising that this city is the main travel spot for trekking. From our hilltribe trek three years ago, we decided we could’nt really fit in the time this time round and have explored the city by walking. The climate up here makes it more appealing to the wildlife therefore there is more mosquitos and cocroaches.
Our hostel is situated within Tha Phae Gate, the eastern side of the city walls which guarded the city. Little much has changed since my last visit apart from the commercialism which is taking over this country. We’ve been to the Night Bazzaar market where we brought a Diesel bag for 500 BAHT (£7.90) and a Diesel flipflop for 250 BAHT (£4), knock-offs ofcourse but their pretty hard to tell. Alan also got his hair shaved and was probably conned into paying 150 BAHT (£2.30) as there was no bargaining. I also got the opportunity to take photos of the pictorisque town and the cute wee children running around.
For dinner, we continue to indulge on Thai food, trying different Northern varieties. The spice levels are increasing everytime and I don’t know how much longer I can handle it. We had the local Chiang beer in what tastes alot bitter than Singha beer, it is also alot stronger, easy enough for me to get pissed after a bottle… even though I had to get Alan to finish the rest.
We flew into Phuket on Saturday 31st March 2007. Funny thing is that in this travel, there was no more long coach journeys nor non-airconditioned rooms, Alan was having none of it. Since Alan has Asthma and lots of other demands, I ensured that he travelled comfortably and safely throughout.
Phuket is an island with beautiful beaches. Beaches here lure you together with the hot weather and sometimes, hot talent! Karon and Kata Beach are just 30 mins away from Phuket Town, away from the busy streets where you can experience real Thai culture. The beaches are clean and postcard like, you can relax here away from it all. It’s quiet and very romantic when you watch the sunset. But if like us, sometimes you need abit of nightlife, head to neighbouring beach town Patong, here is where the partygoers play hard. There’s a bar in every corner. The town may prove to be too seedy for some but it’s worth a visit. We stayed in Patong for one night and decided to head back to neighbouring Karon/Kata beaches. Patong has too many tourists and its becoming more like Ibiza. The beach is not as clean and there seems to be more western people here than Thai. Karon and Kata beaches are the best. Tranquil and more peaceful than the others. However, there is a big difference from my last visit as there are more big resorts.
We visited a monkey cave and the famous yet truly remarkable ‘James Bond Island’ which looks just as unspoilt since my last visit. We ventured further into a fishing village where it felt like we were walking through peoples back yards. Last time I was here, I had a photo taken with two very cute monkeys (literally), I was hoping to find them again but without luck.
Our last few days we spent sunbaving hours on hours in the beach, bargaining hard in the stalls, relaxing like kings in the sauna. The people of Thailand are very friendly which is one of the many factors why tourists are flocking to this country. I’ve sure had another great time in Thailand and would love to visit this country again and again.
Phuket > Bangkok > Ayuthaya > Chiang Mai > Chiang Rai
10 August – This is probably the best country in all my travels. There’s so much to see in Thailand. Whether it’s to explore the treasures of the country’s buddas, trek the hills to visit the hill tribes, relax in one of the best beaches in the world in Phuket, or discover the nightlife of Bangkok. There’s so much to do!
The people of Thailand are one of the most friendliest I’ve ever met. Thai food is a must, I grew fond of the Thai Green Curry. Everything is a bargain, accommodation at one of the many backpacker guesthouses can cost as little as £2 a night!
The Island of Phuket is truly unbelievable. Beaches here lure you together with the hot weather and sometimes, hot talent! Karon and Kata Beach are just 30 mins away from Phuket Town, away from the busy streets where you can experience real Thai culture.
The beaches are clean and postcard like, you can relax here away from it all. It’s quiet and very romantic when you watch the sunset. But if like us, sometimes you need a bit of nightlife, head to neighbouring beach town Patong, here is where the partygoers play hard. There’s a bar in every corner. The town may prove to be too seedy for some but it’s worth a visit. This is where I first had my henna, which was later to become my permanent tattoo in Bangkok. There is so much to do!
Visit the famous yet truly remarkable James Bond Island (pictured on this background), go elephant trekking, and if you’re super cool like Dwayne (not me) go deep sea diving.
Dwayne and I headed up north to the capital city of Bangkok. This city fastly becoming commercialised. The streets are busy and hectic.
When we arrived, the city had just opened it’s first metro (underground). There are various ways to get around including the infamous tuk tuks, sky trains, express ferries, taxis, air-con buses or travel mega cheap with no air-con buses at only 4 bahts a ride, that’s like 10p a ride!
Bargaining in the markets is easy (after several attempts), if you’re lucky, you can ussually pay half the asking price. There is plenty of fake designer goods from Diesel to Von Dutch.
The Grand Palace houses some of the most amazing artifacts around. If you fancy a massage, I recommend the specialists at Wat Phat temple, it also costs incredibly cheap.
Food is amazing, you can eat anything here from Traditional Thai Curry to Chinese, and ofcourse it too is cheap.
Like many cities we have travelled, Bangkok has a large China Town and a Little India. Thai Boxing is a must visit! If there’s one thing I’ve yet to mention, then that’s the nightlife. You’ll find all the traveller’s drinking and partying at the magnificent Khao San Road. It’s a street party every night drawing crouds all over the world.
We headed further north to old capital Chiang Mai, a truly remarkable escape route out of the hectic world of Bangkok. It’s quite a peaceful town, here all the guesthouses offers hilltribe treks. We took up the opportunity at our guesthouse called Libra. It’s a great way to discover and get involved in small rural communities away from everyday essentials such as telly or even electricity or hot water for that matter. You also meet alot of other travellers.
Chiang Mai also has one of Thailand’s most impressive night markets. Here you can buy anything from cups to clothings. The quality is quite amazing together with the price you can bargain. This is where we took up our first trek – The Hilltribe trek.
We met our group of travellers who we were going to be trekking with. There were a great and international bunch from America to England, to Germany and Australia, everyone got on very well. We drove up further north and stayed in two villages, both of which have a small community who live on growing and selling crops, there is no electricity! It’s such a contrast to home, the kids here are kids! They have fun with other travellers and in the fields, they’re very sweet and love having their photos taken. These kids don’t need the Playstation! Although, travelling to these villages meant a hike of 5 hours or so… plenty of walking through the hills and mountains. We went Bamboo rafting… so much fun actually having to control the rafts itself down the valley, been to the Chiang Dao Cave where we encountered my first ever wild snake, and trekked on the Elephant – sitting on the Elephant’s neck so when they reached up the trees for food, it meant falling backwards – an unforgettable experience.
The hilltribe’s were nice poor villages who rely on a lot of tourism, chickens and baby piglets are free to roam all over the place. The kids here are my favourite part of the trip, and making new friends with other travellers.
Our last trip in Thailand was to Chiang Rai, our stopover for Laos. This nice small town was relaxing. We walked around a lot, ate and strolled along the night markets. We also had what maybe was our final Swensen’s Ice cream. Very chilled and exotic.
Thailand is full is surprises. You can see that there are so many things to do. I’ve promised myself to return to this country in the future.