Bangkok

I loved being by the river. It made for fresh breezes, in an otherwise quite smoggy city; and ease of 1539getting around. Our hotel was only 5 minutes walk from the sky train and river boats.  The sky train whisks you around the city in an air conditioned bubble.  I had stayed on Sukhumvit road in the past, but with the sky train running along it, it now forms a pollution tunnel, where all the traffic fumes get trapped between the heat, the train line and street level.

We visited the amazing Chatuchak weekend markets, easily gotten to on the sky train.  My advice, get there EARLY!  It is ridiculous and wonderful and stupid big.

One of my favourite visits was to Chinatown and the eating street.  About 9pm, everyone was on the street dining on wonderful plates of food under the neon lights.

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Tips:  there are lots of fancy hotels along the river, with the Shangri La being one of the most beautiful. As a Farang, you can pretty well walk into anywhere unchecked.  Maybe a day by the pool would be a good thing. Many of these hotels offer a free shuttle boat. Check out the Hilton Orchid, or one of those south along the river. There are also free shuttle boats to the new up and coming area called ‘Asiatique’.  You will find dining, stalls, entertainment and a big ferris wheel.

Koh Samui

This has been my island of choice since I first set foot on its palm treed shores in 1990.

The best thing about it is one of the few islands with an airport.  Due to the high landing fees, the direct flights are a lot more costly than other places, but very convenient as flights are from S airport, so can be easily linked to an international flight, or easily gotten to on the airport link sky train.

A cheaper alternative is to fly from DM airport to Surat Thani, and then get to the east coast islands via coach and ferry.  From Samui, you have access to Koh Phangan and Koh Tao.

Samui has had a lot of money put into it, which has resulted in every piece of street front real estate, has been built on.  You can pretty well do or get anything you want on this good sized island.  We rent bikes or a jeep from the small local businesses.  Be aware they normally some kind of valuable document or a large cash deposit.  We have never had a problem with any rentals, but it is wise to take photos of any existing dents or scratches before you drive away.

There are many many places to stay, in all price brackets; from modest guesthouses, to millionaire villas. I find the the Nova Samui is a good hotel, just out of the noise but with a 10 minute shuttle to Chaweng beach.  If you want to be in the thick of it, there are lots of beachside hotels, but expect some noise from bars and discos.

Lamai beach is Chaweng’s laid back cousin, with more rustic accommodation to chose from.  Other good areas are around Big Buddah Beach where you will find the much loved Secret Garden Sunday jam nights. This beach gets more traffic noise as the area between the beach and road is quite narrow.

A visit to the main town of Na Thong is a must.  In the evening, the port fills with local food stands and the night markets start. It’s also very interesting to watch the fishing boats come in. These ramshackle vessels are home and work to many young local men.

More markets can be found in Fisherman’s village Bo Phut, every Friday. Otherwise, every night is street market night in Chaweng and Lamai.

 

Koh Phangan

It took us under an hour to ferry across from Big Buddha to the welcoming arms of Koh Phangan.  This is a reflection of what Samui used to be before big business moved in.

You can stay very cheaply and rustic style in a hut, or go as upmarket as you wish. The bottom of the island is a mecca for beach party enthusiasts and home of the Full Moon Party, while the top of the West island is full of cliff side resorts and beautiful scenery.  We ended up in a moderately priced and fully modern hotel, with a massive balcony, no real view and things like steaming hot water and wifi, for the princely sum of 1000 BT per night.  The bonus was, we walked 2 minutes to one of the nicest beaches on the island.  Breakfast was eaten on the sandy beach with the waves lapping a meter away.

175Haad Yao Resort on Haad Yao beach.  *I have not received any payment or endorsement by mentioning any hotels.  It is purely my opinion that they are wonderful finds and great locations.

We rented a motorbike for 200 BT per day and went all over the island.

For the most perfect setting for dinner or drinks, visit the rustic outcrop of the Haad Son resort.

If you want to go even more rustic, then take the ferry to the third island paradise of Koh Tao. More popular with divers, some resorts are only accessible by boat.

Koh Phi Phi

This is a place with two distinct personalities, although one of them keeps the other awake on weekends.The Tsunami has changed the fabric of this little island, where the tourists have changed from hippy types, to the ones who want to go on all you can drink booze cruises and compete over who can make the most noise on a cruise.

The nucleus of the island is a building site (in 2016), with a maze of local life mixed in with hotels.  We found the centrally placed JJ Residence to be a little haven of loveliness at 2300 a night.  It was also buried deep enough to drown out the all night raves at the top of the island.

If you walk along the water front, there is an endless queue of shops, cafes and restaurants.  We found 536the ‘Thank You’ restaurant, which dished up local food and decent prices.  It was funded by a Brit who befriended a Thai who had lost everything in the Tsunami.

If you wander into the far depths of the island, you will find an amusement park type feel with all things to attract the party tourist.  If you see water on the path, and it isn’t raining, this is part of the infrastructure problem I have referred to.

The top eastern part of the island is all night big beach bars, with battling DJS and flashing lights.

We were able to hear the revelries as we changed to another hotel called Chong Khao Bungalows.  Under the assumption that out of the tourist congestion would be a good thing, it ended up making the music all the louder.  The hotel was nice though and at 1500 with breakfast, who could complain.

The other reason people flock to Phi Phi island, is due to the Beach, which starred in the Leonardo DiCaprio film.  Many of the local boat companies were wiped out in 2004, so this gave opportunity for a big rich boat company to come in and try to take over.  They have speed boats that hold up to 30 people and are a great way to see the surrounding islands, if you don’t mind a cattle tour.

553We found a local with a traditional wooden boat, who had lost his speedboat, 622daughter and wife in the Tsunami.  He took us to the main places, but in spots that were away from the hoards, and his timing was perfect too.

I had tropical fish eating out of my hands, and snorkelled some of the most tranquil areas around.  Our 4 hours cost us 1200 BT and we avoided the crowds.

Koh Lanta

This Muslim island was a lot of fun.  It is a good size to explore, with one road running down the coast.  The old town is at the top, and offers all things, from food to shopping, and massage to travel agents.  Around the corner is the start of a long white stretch of sand and a wonderful beach. We explored on a rented motorbike (220 BT per day) and saw wild monkeys and gin clear water on white sand beaches.

Koh Jum

We didn’t get to this island as we ran out of time, but if you want the real experience, this untouched island offers limited electricity, cool water showers, stilt bungalows on quiet beaches, and the last real authentic beach experience to be found in Thailand (as far as an entire island goes).  It is just off the coast of Koh Lanta, and it is part of the normal ferry service, so easy to get to once a day.

Chiangmai

Once you’ve had enough of beaches, you can hop on a flight to Chiangmai in the north.  Other ways of accessing it are by night train, but don’t expect much sleep.  It is an adventure if you are the kind of person who can sleep anywhere and you like the cold.  I found the prices for a first class cabin to be higher than an Air Asia flight, and takes 1 hour as opposed to 12.

This is a big city with a small town feel. It centres around a walled square of old town, complete with a moat.  It’s like all the cool, interesting, artistic people got together and formed their own town.  Surrounded by hill tribes from neighbouring countries, as well as massage students, jewellery makers, vegans, musicians, and those who still think tie dye is a good look, this fascinating place has an unhurried, green vibe. Prices drop dramatically from those experienced in the islands, and the average taxi ride is 20 BT.

There are 2 predominant markets. The Night markets operate every evening; and spill out to the surrounding streets. If you can get a hotel close to them, you wont have to go far to find bars with live music and cheap food.  We stayed at the Chiang Mai Plaza, which was excessively opulent at 1200 BT pn including a big buffet breakfast.  You can find much, much cheaper, but we got a good deal online.

If you want a bit of fun, there is a Ladyboy Cabaret show within the market.  They start at 9:30pm and spill out into the street before and after the show.  It was brilliant fun.

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The Sunday markets start filling the street of the walled old town from around 4pm.  Go early for good food pickings.  The Wats seemed to have the largest concentration of food stalls, with seating and a great selection of Thai treats.

I would also suggest getting there early if you like to be able to walk freely, as they get stupid busy. You will wonder where on earth all these people came from.

Outside of Chiangmai we were lucky enough to visit an elephant refuge. I know there is a lot of talk about how politically correct these places are, but the one we chose, also acts as an Elephant hospital and the animals look happy and healthy; bar the one getting treatment for having his foot blown open by stepping on a landmine near the Myanmar border.   You can buy sugarcane and bananas to feed the elephants and it was a glorious thing to do.  This refuge also helps orphan elephants by placing them with maternal females, and we were able to feed them both and make them happy.

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Chiangmai is a good place to spend a lot of time. If you want to rent an apartment for a month, it can cost as little as 5-8000 BT a month.  These are never advertised, so you need to ask around.

There are really good Thai massage courses, cooking courses, and meditation retreats available.  You can stay with Monks, or just hang out and drink coffee.  It is also a good jump off point to the hill tribes, and to Chiangrai and the golden triangle.

If you wish to go into Cambodia, I would recommend flying from Chiangmai to Seem Reap and beginning your Cambodian experience at Angkor Wat, before either heading to Phnom Penh or off to Vietnam.  If you do chose to go by van or minibus, please research the notorious scams that take place at the border in regards to buying visas.  If you want an easy life, fly over.

Enjoy your experience in Thailand