Wednesday, 23 October 2013

TRAVEL: Thailand

TRAVEL POST: Thailand - Bangkok, Krabi, Koh Phi Phi, Koh Phangan, Koh Tao and back to Bangkok.. phew!

For a few weeks between March and April 2013 I was one of them. You know who they are. That group of backpackers who just seem so exotic and crazy because they are exploring Thailand. It seems so far away, so beautiful, so hot, so different, so exciting. Everyone there seems so cool, so happy, so free. Everywhere you look there are anklets, sarongs and hangovers.
I can now count myself as part of that (quite large) club of people who have Been To Thailand.

Club rules:
When you meet another person from the club you MUST squeal "OMG did you go to the Full Moon party?"
The only correct response to this is "YES! Did you?"
Well, of course they did.
Now you can discuss how amaaaaazing it was and then perhaps talk about the food ("Can you believe I didn't even get food poisoning?"), the weather ("So hot!"), the people ("So friendly!"), the shopping ("So cheap!"), the accommodation ("So cheap!") and Thailand in general ("So hot! So friendly! So cheap!").

Above: a stock image from Google images that I thought was a pretty good snapshot into Thailand tourism.

Click the Read More link below to... read more!

I booked Thailand on a whim, there happened to be a reasonable flight to Bangkok (via Kuala Lumpur) from the Gold Coast with Air Asia. Everyone raved about how cheap Thailand is and I had saved a lot of money from my pub job in Emerald... so... why the heck not?
Overall, it wasn't actually that cheap. Individually, yes - Thailand is cheap. One bottle of water is cheap, one plate of pad thai from a street cart is cheap BUT remember that it does all add up.
Before I even set foot in Thailand I had already forked out $600 for my return flight, $300 for vaccinations (including drinking something that would protect me from cholera and a few packs of anti-malaria tablets that made me feel sick) plus $100 travel insurance. So already that was $1,000.
I also purchased a travel guide for Thailand, a pair of sturdy shoes (they caused much hilarity to my travel buddy) and a first-aid kit.
I am a very organised person. I did hours and hours of research trying to plan the best places to stay, the best places to eat and the best things to see/do. And guess what? Plans aren't always necessary. We turned up in Bangkok with no accommodation for that night booked, no idea if we would stay in Bangkok first or go straight to the islands, no plan WHATSOEVER. And it was fine! One of the main things that I learned from my time in Thailand was to go with the flow.

So, I landed in Bangkok at 6am in the morning, local time. My backpack had been left behind at my stopover in Kuala Lumpur. I was tired and alone in a foreign country with no stuff, needless to say I was not feeling great. I met up with my friend at the airport and we caught a taxi to Khao San road with a random backpacker who joined us at the airport.

Ah yes - the legend that is Khao San road. We've seen it in films ("The Beach"), in travel stories and in the facebook photos of other members of the Been To Thailand club. We've all heard various things about it - its the best place on earth, its a tourist trap, its dangerous, its amaaazing...
My first impressions: It was hot. It was so so hot. We had no accommodation booked so we went to the first pub/bar we could find, ordered some food and tried to make a decision. That decision was: to wander up KS road until we found a suitable place or passed out from heat (whichever came first).
We ended up in the foyer of D&D Inn, little did we know its a famous "flashpacker" haunt. We were too hot to carry on (pathetic, aren't we?) so we docilely agreed to a twin room with aircon, no window and a breakfast at their partner hotel across the street. It is not a hostel or a backpacker place.
Its a cheap hotel, I saw families with young children checking in and slightly nervous looking backpackers who clearly came to Thailand with the best intentions of roughing it, but had a change of heart when they got here.
I had to wait in the foyer for about 2 hours because the airline were having my backpacker delivered to me, thank you Air Asia! Then we explored Khao San road, got a cheap plate of pad thai (it was $1) and settled into one of the street bars for a cocktail or two.
 Above: The lady whose street bar we chose came over with a game of Connect 4! Did I say we had a cocktail or two? I meant we had a bucket or two...

Above: the morning after the night before... Khao San road is not very pretty at 7am in the morning with a hangover.

We took a day trip to a war memorial, the famous Bridge on the River Kwai, a riverside elephant track and the infamous Tiger Temple. Its a bit of a free for all when it comes to day trips. You wait outside your hotel praying that each mini bus passes by is for you because you kind of don't trust the sweet lady who booked your tour for you from her teeny tiny office (that also doubled as a clothes shop).
Our bus turned up and for some reason we thought sitting on the backseat of a rickety mini bus with a hangover for a couple of hours was a GOOD IDEA. We are idiots.
Above: the journey from hell.
Luckily for us, a very kind American couple offered to swap with us when we stopped for petrol.

Kanchanaburi and the Bridge on the River Kwai:
The horrors of war can be seen here at the war graves, the war museum and the bridge itself. As terrible as the history of this place is, it has a really peaceful feeling to it. I enjoyed my trip here, it was very informative. The drive out to the bridge and tigers was interesting because we got to see local towns and local people along the way. Paying your respects to the victims of war is important too so don't just take a trip to the tigers try and find one likes ours where we got a combination: Kanchaburi & the bridge, elephant ride and tigers.

 Above: Kanchanaburi war memorial
 Above: Kanchanaburi
 Above: Gorgeous view from the bridge
 Above: the famous Bridge on the River Kwai

Above: The Bridge on the River Kwai.

 Above: very beautiful but very sad - a little cub chained up to promote wildlife tours. Pretty ironic.

Above: War museum, Kanchanaburi

Above: It was a very informative museum

Above: one of the displays

Above: architecture at the war museum

Elephant rides:
I have no idea where this was, but it was a very small village near a river. We rode in twos on the elephants - it was a bumpy ride! I was scared at first but the elephants were very gentle and very used to humans. They seemed well cared for and as the rides didn't last too long I felt happy that they weren't over-worked or over-loaded with passengers. We paid a few baht extra to hand feed them bananas after our ride.

River trip:
After the elephants we got into a boat and zipped up the river, then floated back down with the engine off. I really enjoyed this it was so relaxing but the other backpackers on board were pretty unimpressed... We stopped along the river at a cafe and helped ourselves to plenty of fried rice and watermelon!

ANOTHER surprise of this trip (as well as the boat ride) was a trip to a local hangout - waterfalls! It was incredible, we were right in there with the locals on their lunchbreak from everyone to school kids to the elderly. Some people asked to take photos with us, I don't think they were used to seeing tourists or white people around their village. It was really nice to see the locals just enjoying their everyday lives, outside of the tourist traps of Bangkok.

Tiger Temple:
And so we finally reached the Tiger Temple. My travel buddy was unaware of its bad reputation, she really wanted to go and hold a baby tiger. There weren't any baby ones the day we went, we saw a lot of big ones instead. It was a tightly controlled environment - you are assigned a volunteer, they hold your hand at all times except when you are having your photo taken with a tiger. They also have control of your camera at all times and you only get it back (and your hand) when you exit the enclosure.
It was a pretty sad state of affairs to be honest. These huge animals are chained up and they are so docile that you can't help but question why? An American guy from my tour grilled one of the volunteers, he swore blind that the tigers are so peaceful and still because they exercise them in the morning, feed them a whole chicken and then lay them out in the sun before visitors come. We were not convinced.
As much as it makes a great photo, its not a nice place as far as I'm concerned. Would I go again? No. Would I recommend it? Probably not. I think even seeing a tiger in a zoo would be better, at least they can wander around their enclosure without chains.

Sad times :(

A not so sober night in Khao San road:
Khao San parties on all night. I don't even know what time we got to bed.. maybe 4am? Thats pretty late for me I usually start yawning at 1am. I'm not a night owl! There are food stalls all night to curb those hunger pangs, street stalls selling booze, nightclubs and bars. There are always people around.
We drank first with the American guys we met on the tiger tour, we got a tuk tuk to the red light district and sat in a very uncomfortable ping pong show. I went in expecting it to be hilarious and a bit of fun, I left feeling pretty uncomfortable and really it was not much fun seeing women do that to themselves. After the poor tigers from earlier, it was just too much so we left before I even finished my drink.
One of the Americans got into a fight with a Thai girl and ended up having to go to hospital for stitches... anyway, we then hung out with some German and French guys (I *think*) before heading back to our room feeling pretty worse for wear.
Above: catching a Tuk Tuk with our new American friends to a...seedy...part of town
Above: local Thai kids breakdancing outside the bar we were drinking at, they were awesome!

From Bangkok to the beaches:
We decided the next day to head down to the coast. After booking an overnight bus (to save money - overnight bus = no hotel needed that night!) down to Krabi we had a day to kill. We attempted to go to the Grand Palace but we were toooo hungover :( we went and sat in the air conditioned heaven that is McDonalds (awful, I know) and wandered the street markets of Khao San rd.
The over night bus really was not so bad at all, I even managed to sleep a fair bit (I find it hard to sleep on moving vehicles). We got off the coach in Krabi and found ourselves yet again in a new city, in the early morning, with no plan. So we followed the crowd and opted to get a ferry over to Koh Phi Phi.
And as usual, it was so so crowded. The stunning scenery more than made up for it though, its a beautiful place and I loved my time on this island.
Above: a lot of your time will be spent on ferries/coaches surrounded by other backpackers... hungover, hot and bored. But its all part of the fun - so suck it up!

Below: we were amazed when we got to Koh Phi Phi and night time fell, because we had never seen beach bars (literally, with tables and chairs on the sand) and we had never seen so much fire! Each bar put on its own fire show to try and attract customers - there was fire spinning, fire jump rope, fire limbo (AWESOME!), fire dancing... fire everything!

"The Beach" beach, Maya Bay, Monkey beach, Mosquito beach.. so many beaches I have forgotten their names:
The next day we, and about 10 000 others, took a boat trip to visit the beach made famous by THAT Leonardo di Caprio film. We all know it. For a lot of people, their whole preconceptions of Thailand are based on the film, "The Beach".
Yes, Maya Bay beach is very picturesque. It was really crowded but we still managed to get some great photos! I think my main issue was the heat, after the 45 mins our boat trip allocated to seeing The Beach we were definitely ready to move on. Every beach we saw that day was gorgeous in its own way, many of them had barely anyone else there - its a shame that most people just want to see The Beach and not bother with anywhere else, because Koh Phi Phi has a lot more to offer than an out-dated film.
 Above: the view from breakfast, Koh Phi Phi
 Above: entering Maya Bay... its not clear in the photo but you can barely see the sand because of all the other boats
 Above: Crystal clear waters - perfect for scuba diving!
Above: even with the crowds and boats, you cannot deny Maya Bay is a beauty.

 above: I somehow managed to get a photo without anyone else in it. I think I deserve a prize
 Above: On Monkey Beach. No prizes for guessing why it is named so
Above: Actually this place was pretty sad. Tourists feed monkeys their disgusting junk food - I saw monkeys eating chocolate bars and drinking from Pepsi cans. It was heartbreaking seeing that they each have a fat belly and a sad little face :( Poor monkeys. Please don't feed them if you go here!!
Above: I have forgotten its name but this beach was stunning and so peaceful - no other tourists around at all.

 Above: we randomly found a bar that showcased Muay Thai boxing, they had professional fighters and also invited members of the crowd to have a go!
Above: one of our best nights out. It began with some Spanish guys and ended with me being sick in the ocean :-( oops!

 Above: Koh Phi Phi beach, loved this island so much
Above: Sunset & farewell to Koh Phi Phi

Koh Phangan:
We were pretty lucky to get to Koh Phangan - everyone else was trying to get there too for the Full Moon Party!
We took a ferry back to Krabi, a coach to (I've forgotten, on the other side of the country) and a ferry over to Koh Phangan. It was packed! Everyone in Thailand had migrated to this tiny island to celebrate the Full Moon by drinking on the beach!

Below: We went out the night before the Full Moon party, and it was basically a huge party anyway! We had a brilliant night and got chatting to loads of different people from all over the world

The island itself, Koh Phangan is just at picturesque as any other in Thailand. It has gorgeous clear waters, white sand and green hills

Above: This Koh Phangan beach (the one where the Full Moon party is) was the busiest beach I saw in Thailand - day and night there were so many young and beautiful people lying around... It was like being back at university again, but all the students were models!

And here it finally was - the night we had all been waiting for!
I'm not gonna lie - I was nervous before I went because my mum is a scaremonger and she sent me a load of British tabloid news stories about drugs and crime at the Full Moon party.
Having walked around Koh Phangan during the day and met some other people staying at the same place as us, I already felt safe. Everyone was between 18-25 years old, mostly European, just out to have some fun & a good time.
That''s exactly how the night was - everyone was SO FRIENDLY! They were just happy to be there, they wanted a good time and that's all. I saw no fights, no crime, no rapes, nothing like that. '
Sure people were on drugs but I didn't take any and nobody tried to force me to. I stumbled home at 7am with my handbag and its contents still in my possession, the worst thing I can say about it was the stinking hangover I had as a result of a few sandy buckets of vodka (the last inch of the bucket is literally just sand).

Oh okay I did get injured - I fell off the rooftop slide at this beach bar and put my tailbone out. Ouch. But its okay - I got straight up onto my feet and carried on partying until after sunrise!
Below: a photo of the roof top slide that I fell off, what a dope :(

Below: of course we pained our bodies in glow paint!

 Above: me at the famous Full Moon sign, you can just make out my wee pink bucket of vodka/sand
It was packed, each bar was playing its own music - so much neon, so crazy!
I'm amazed me and Tracey (who I went with) managed to stick together all night (about 9pm - 7am)
 above: dancing up on the tables... um where is my bucket?
Above: me & Tracey at the Full Moon beach party!
 Above: the people who lasted til the morning... waiting for sunrise

 Above: me and Trace at sunrise.. woop woop!
 Above: we survived the night, and may I say we don't look too bad either!
Above: The afternoon after the night/morning before... Wow just a few hours earlier this place was crowded with people and colours. I went to the beach that afternoon for a quick look at the aftermath - there were some amazing volunteers (both Thai and tourists) cleaning up the mess. I helped a little but felt so sick I had to go lie down in my room :(

Koh Phangan tips:
It gets really really full here during the Full Moon. We booked our accommodation in advance, however- we did get chatting to a Swedish girl who said she just turned up and was able to find a bed easily.
Book your ferry outta there in advance! We were stuck on Koh Phangan for a day or two longer than we wanted, because all the ferries out were booked!

Koh Tao:
We hopped on a ferry over to Koh Tao... If Koh Phangan is famous for partying, then Koh Tao's claim to fame is diving - it was the only reason people gave for going there.
I wasn't too fussed on diving - I'll just stick to snorkelling thanks! - but Tracey booked herself onto a dive and we stayed at accommodation provided by the diving school - it was really nice!
Its a gorgeous place, we stayed on a quiet beach with winding streets. It was by the far the least "touristy"place we stayed in Thailand. It had a very small town, local feel to it and I stumbled upon the most beautiful little beach ever, scroll down for pictures below.
 above: Ah, Thailand bathrooms. Where you can shit and shower at the same time ;)
Above: the beach by our diving school accommodation
 Above: local streets
 Above: a shrine to the King of Thailand
 Above: I saw this view and I just KNEW I was going to find the perfect beach
 Above: LOVE LOVE LOVE this beautiful beach. There was hardly anyone here, why?? I was enamoured with this tiny little bay... the wooden huts, the palm trees, the rocks, the clear water....
 Above: The gorgeous beach
 Above: I took so many photos. Yes I even took my camera out into the water so I could photograph the beach

Above: the sun starting to set on Koh Tao

Koh Tao nightlife:
We got chatting to some guys from the dive school and all took a (I can't describe it as a taxi) tractor thing to the main strip where all the parties are. We walked past a transsexual cabaret show and I just knew we had to see it... it was awesome!

And, as per, we ended up at a beach bar - there was indeed fire !
We had a really good night, met some crazy French guys, attempted to find a pool party, got lost,got drunk, made it home safe! All in all, a winner!

Back to Bangkok:
We left Koh Tao by ferry, to a coastal town where we were catching an overnight coach back to Bangkok, arriving at approx 6am. The coach turned up 2 hours early and everyone else was like "YAY" because they didn't like waiting. I was concerned... it turned up 2 hours early which surely meant we would get to Bangkok early? Sure enough I woke up at about 3.30am; the coach had pulled up, our backpacks were being chucked onto the pavement and suddenly we found ourselves half asleep and sober in the middle of the Khao San road craziness.
I had been chatting to an English guy on our coach and we grouped together with out friends to try and find a place for the night, we found a hotel on KS road - and had to pay full price for half a night's stay. It was shit but we were tired and desperate so we paid up.
The next morning my friend was actually leaving whereas I was staying on in Bangkok for a few days by myself. I wanted to save money so I found a quite dirty looking hostel on the far end of KS road, it was $7 a night for a single room with fan and shared bathroom - sold! It was really not that bad- yes it was hot in my room due to not having air con but for the price I paid it was great. It wasn't dirty, I saw the cleaners every morning. I never had to wait to use a toilet/shower either and the other guests were friendly.

Before my friend left we had a girls day - we took a tuk tuk to a shopping centre in Bangkok, did some souvenir buying, got donuts (!) then went back to KS road for a Thai massage and then we got our finger and toe nails painted!

Above: the floor that I stayed on in the &-Up hostel, my single room

Grand Palace and Wats:
I got up early and power-walked over to the palace. I got there before it was open and waited around with a bus-load of Chinese tourists who were all wearing matching Burberry hats.
I had to hire a shirt and sarong in order to be fully covered up in the palace grounds - you get your money back when you return the items and the system is efficient.
The admission price is well worth it - the buildings and architecture are stunning.
I walked around twice because there was too much to take in the first time!
 Above: view of the grounds
 Above: the choice of language on this sign made me laugh, "wily strangers" is not a phrase I hear that commonly but I love it all the same!
 Above: the crowds!
 Above: me outside the temple of the Emerald Buddha

Above: The Grand Palace itself

Various temples/wats/ walks around Bangkok:
I don't have a problem being alone, which is why I stayed on in Thailand after my friend left. At no point in Thailand did I ever feel that I was lonely or in danger
 Below: Temple of the Reclining Buddha - this guy was HUGE!

 Below: Unfortunately I didn't get across the river to see Wat Arun up close, it looks magnificent

Below: Taking street market to a whole new level
 Below: the busy roads
 Below: lovely to see a country that views its monarchy with pride and respect
Above: ruins of an old Fortress, near Khao San road

My last night in Thailand, spent on Khao San road, soaking in the people and the sights

 Above: I made a friend :)
Above: my hair is normally straight but in Thailand it went a weird kind of sticky/fuzzy - and it actually had volume! In Bangkok my face constantly felt like a horrible dirty oily mess due to the heat, humidity and pollution. Face wipes & face wash were very important items in my backpack! As was deodorant.

Don't panic too much about packing - you can buy so much stuff over there and it is cheap! I took hardly any clothes over with me, while I was there I purchased 2 dresses and 2 tops as well as a pair of flip flops and a bunch of jewellery. 

The makeup that I took to Thailand was as follows:
LÓreal Studio Secrets primer, LÓreal Base maguiqe BB cream in Light, Clinique Anti-Blemish foundation, the Body Shop face powder, Rimmel waterproof eyeliner, Rimmel eyebrow pencil and Maybelline mascara. 

(From what I can remember)
Makeup (as above)
Hair stuff - brush, bobble, bobby pins
Toileties -deodorant, razor, mini shampoo + conditioner, bar of soap, moisturiser, face wipes, face wash, toothbrush, tooth paste
First-aid kit - plasters/band aids, the pill, Malaria tablets, anti-constipation and anti-diarrhea tablets (I didn't need either of these at all), tissue paper
One light microfibre towel and one sarong 
Electricals - phone, camera, chargers, battery alarm clock
Clothes - white cotton tshirt, 1 playsuit, pair of shorts, 1 dress, 1 shawl/scarf, 
Swimwear - I took two bikinis that I could do Mix n Match styles with
Accessories - sunglasses, a large day bag, a small night time bag, watch, 1 pair of earrings
Shoes - 1 x sandals, 1 x flip flops, 1 x sturdy walking shoes
Misc. - a book, travel guide, diary + pen, 

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