Thailand has always been a dream destination for me, and before I went, I could only imagine what it might be like through postcards with photos of beaches and paradise. I've blogged quite a bit about my travels through Asia recently, but I've not yet shared my thoughts on Thailand, where we spent 2 and a half weeks of our holiday. Now here's the practical bit, price wise, we discovered that if you book through agoda.com on a Friday you get huge discounts, so we did that and stayed in 4 star hotels for a fraction of the price. They seemed even better than my usual go to site whilst travelling which is almost always airbnb.com. You really can live like a King on next to nothing if you do it right! For internal flights, go with Thai Airways or Airasia, they seem to do the best deals.
How did I feel about Thailand? Well we can't say we didn't cover some ground, having spent time in the east, west and north and finally landing ourselves in Bangkok, the capital. We did have some wonderful times there, the most magical thing about it being that we had crossed paths with one of my oldest best friends in Kuala Lumper (there's a post about this here) and subsequently, she and her brother changed their plans to travel on with us. But in all honestly, Thailand didn't quite live up to the utopia it was in my mind, and whilst we had some good times, we actually had some really awful experiences there as well. Here is the breakdown of the different areas.
Ko Samui / Koh Phangnan
We started off exploring the little islands on the east side of Thailand. After a very long journey, and a mix up at our hotel (whoever it was staying there before us had decided to extend their stay and not tell people) so we decided to give up the ghost on exploring for that evening and instead stop at a little restaurant nearby called 'Orgasmic'. It sounded cheesy, but needless to say, we ended up with champagne overlooking the beach and some really amazing seafood. It was one of those moments where you realise you are exactly where you're meant to be at that precise moment.
Exploring Ko Samui was great fun. We rented a scooter for the first time, and after a wobbly start, drove almost right round the island. We nicknamed the little bike 'Ron' - and Ron really did do us a great service. In all honestly, with the local standard of driving I did fear for my life a few times, but Trig was surprisingly good at controlling the bike, even though neither of us drive at home. After our expedition we explored some of the local stalls and shops and spoke to the locals. I can't fault Ko Samui for it's beauty.
We chose to stop at Koh Phangnan next to experience the Full Moon Party. Koh Phangnan is a bigger island than we ever realised, and we were staying at nice little beach hut on the other side of the island. Not to worry though, they loaded us up with rum buckets and we sat on a 'song thaew', a converted pick up truck, that they filled to them brim with people, the unlucky ones standing up and hanging off the back of the car. We were going pretty much downhill the whole way at a crazy speed, but we all survived the journey!
We then met up with our friends from England. A few more rum buckets later, and all the advice we had been given about staying safe, and about how tourists are targets just became a distant memory, I am ashamed to say. The last thing I remember is dancing on a stage, and then suddenly I was in a taxi home without Trig. Piecing the bits together the next day, I had wandered to try and find my taxi ride home (which we'd already paid for) and ended up being taken to a cash machine in a taxi, paying two men and a taxi driver way over the odds, who told me the rest of my journey was paid for. It sounds completely irresponsible to get into a cab with strangers, but it seemed commonplace for taxi drivers take an address from each person and put strangers in the back of their cars together. I was then put into his friends taxi, who demanded more money and tried to scare me. Trig on the other hand, woke up on the beach being kicked by strangers. It could have been so much worse. If anyone warns you about a Full Moon Party as a tourist, from what we've learnt, its not an exaggeration. It is a vipers nest, we heard stories of people being drugged and having all their belongings stolen, or seriously hurt, or worse. Obviously we had just had too much to drink and a few opportunists decided to fleece me for a bit of money, but we were fine. We just kicked ourselves afterwards for losing each other.
We spent the next few days chilling out and trying to lose our hangovers, before heading to the West coast islands.
Our journey to Phuket on a private transfer was supposed to take 6 hours by bus and boat, BUT in actual fact took 14. We were taken onto a bus after leaving the boat, which stopped again shortly after picking us up by a roadside cafe, where we had to wait for four hours for a transfer. During this time, they tried to convince us to pay significantly more money before they took us on our way. When we refused, they took us to a public bus, which confirmed that we'd been well and truly duped. We were with two Australians who needed to catch a flight from Phuket, and we felt so sorry for them! Phuket itself was OK, though my card got cloned, so my memories there aren't necessarily the best. We felt threatened by some of the local lady workers who were quite aggressive with us, and decided to stick to a safe looking bar. A woman approached Trig and asked him to play a board game with her. Trig being the big kid he is played along, as he always sees the best in people, but I knew something was up, and asked him to stop. Turns out the same woman did that afterwards to an Irish man we met, who then was threatened with a hammer when he didn't hand over his cash to a man working with her. So far Thailand was teaching me to be very, very on guard.
Koh Phi Phi
We took a day tour out to Koh Phi Phi and this was truly the most stunning part of our whole time in Thailand. Koh Phi Phi is famously where they filmed 'The Beach', starring Leonardo Di'Caprio. We chilled out in the sun, did a bit of snorkelling and had some lunch, before a storm decided to hit. Getting on and off one of the little boats to the main ship was the biggest challenge!
On our first night in Chiang Mai, we rocked up to our hostel, and met a really friendly lady-boy who ran the establishment. She gave us some great tips on where to go out, and after a frustrating amount of time on the phone trying to resolve my card cloning issues, we headed out for some food and to one of the bars she recommended.
The bar we went to was called 'Zoe in Yellow', a really cute little establishment all lit up by tiki lights. The night started to pick up, when we bumped into the hotel manager again. She bought myself and Jon (my friends brother) a drink, and we returned the favour. Julia wasn't feeling the night, so Trig offered to walk her home. What happened next was indescribable really. I went into a complete blackout, and I was alone in a city in Thailand, 20 minutes walk from home, with no comprehension of how to even function. Now I am never the type of girl to get drunk and not accept responsibility. I am convinced I was spiked, because I've never ever experienced such a thing before in my life, and I hadn't really been drinking that evening. I was completely lost, and completely vulnerable. Trig spent the rest of the night being propositioned by the manager of the hotel who wouldn't leave him alone. Luckily, I was alright in the end. I may not have been though, and the whole experience shook me to my core.
For the next few days, I was incredibly ill. We had booked a trek to see the elephants, but I really shouldn't have attempted it! I pulled myself together and convinced myself I could go, despite still being quite ill 3 days later.
If you ever visit Chiang Mai and go to see the elephants, please visit a humane place, like the Elephant Sanctuary. You have to book in advance of your visit but the majority of the tourist targeted places are cruel to their elephants. If I had understood this beforehand, I wouldn't have gone. The Mahoot who was 'driving' our elephant kept hitting the elephant with his hook, and even drew blood at one point. The elephant seemed to spend the rest of his time tied to something. Afterwards I researched it, and it turns out the procedure for training an elephant literally translates to 'breaking his spirit'. They are taken away from their mothers at a young age mistreated, beaten, and starved so that they as wild animals learn how to respect and listen to their trainers. For more information on this, PETA explains it well here. I don't think I've ever felt so guilty in my life.
After this, we visited a local village tribe, where everyone embarked on a trek to a jungle waterfall. I unfortunately was still very ill, so I stayed behind with the villagers. We obviously couldn't communicate with each other verbally, but I actually felt really at peace lying on one of the surfaces of what seemed like the local meeting point / wooden hut. One of the local men shook some lychee down from a tree and opened them up to give his children some fruit, which they all shared with me. They all sat around talking for hours, and it made me think about how far removed we can be in the western world from simple pleasures like this. I don't think I can remember the last time I sat around and just talked to my neighbours for hours.
Our last and final stop was the big city itself. I was probably the most excited about Bangkok because I had heard so much about the crazy lifestyle. As a group, we did some sightseeing, but the explorers in us quite frankly were a bit knackered by this point, so we instead decided to spend our last few days checking out the night time activity, as that does seem to be what Bangkok is known for. We got lost in chinatown, and invited into more than enough dodgy back alley bars (no thanks!)
Highlights were seeing a thai boxing match, visiting the poshest cinema ever, where we got to lie on beds, and were given a gourmet buffet, and silly tuktuk rides complete with 80's dance classics. All in all, Thailand was a good mixture of good and bad adventures, none of which I will be forgetting any time soon!
Have you ever been to Thailand? What did you think? x