July isn’t the best time to visit Thailand. The blue skies of the dry season have mostly disappeared, and the rainy season has just begun. But, with the less than perfect weather comes something we have learnt to appreciate a lot more. Fewer Tourists!
Entering Thailand from Australia and it being our first true foray into South East Asia we came with expectations and preconceptions. We had worries based on previous travel experiences that Asia might be a challenge that we were a little too travel weary to cope with (having already spent 12 months on the road). But, equally SEA has been a destination we have wanted to visit for many years. We had such high hopes for the food, people and sights. We jumped with both feet straight into the home of chaos, Bangkok!
In all honesty, we were a tad apprehensive of spending time in Bangkok. The number of people who had told us to keep our wits about us and to brace ourselves for the chaos had set off some alarm bells. We’re not city people and the thought of a loud, brash, dirty city wasn’t at the top of our list!
I LOVE IT WHEN WE’RE WRONG.
Bangkok was fantastic! The city itself is so vibrant and mesmerising, yes it’s chaotic, but the Thai’s seem to do chaos differently to the rest of the world! It’s one of the most enjoyable cities we’ve encountered. I think what’s different, is that there is simply so much less aggression in daily life. The people are immensely warm and friendly with huge cheeks from smiling so much… What a brilliant introduction to SEA.
The Grand Palace; Wat Phra Kaew; Wat Pho
Bangkok wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the spiritual heart of the Thai kingdom, The Grand Palace and royal grounds. Holy smoke, what an intensely beautiful place.
Built in 1782, for 150 years was home to the Thai King. The Grand Palace continues to draw in visitors from all over the world to come who gaze in awe at the intricate details of its beautiful architecture and vibrant colours.
We don’t want to sound like a mindlessly gushing travel blogger, but there are some places that stand out as somewhere special. We were completely blown away by The Grand Palace, the effort and attention to detail on the buildings and statues exceed so many other places we have seen. This place is truly breathtaking.
The Grand Palace, along with other sacred sites like Wat Phra Kaew, aka The Temple of the Emerald Buddha and Wat Pho, require a strict dress code. It’s nice that for the most part, the dress code for men and women is the same. As a basic rule have knees and shoulders covered and you should be fine. Michael got caught out and had to buy himself a sexy pair of hippy pants!
Mai Kaidee’s Cooking School
I’ve got a big love for Thai food and have been very much looking forward to gorging on the real deal! In the interests of being able to bring the taste home, we enrolled in Mai Kaidee’s Cooking School.
What amazing fun! We had a wonderful teacher, Kina, who helped us create the tastiest Thai food we’ve ever eaten, she even got Michael eating spicy food – now there’s a win! Yum Yum Yum.
Chaos on Khao San Road
Khao San Road is the tourist hub of Bangkok, chock-a-block full of enthusiastic young travellers, hostels, nightclubs, massage parlours and restaurants which don’t quite manage to be Thai or Western. We weren’t interested in the nightlife and were a little wary of its reputation, but needed to see what Khao San Road was all about. Once again, we were so pleased to be proved wrong.
I think so long as you’re not staying on the road it’s a fun and enjoyable experience (we stayed in a great spot a few streets back). What’s not to love about markets, fresh fruit smoothies and a post dinner massage! You can even get adventurous and try a bite of one of the many creepy crawlies from a street vendor.
Khao San Road is a good place if you want to practise your bargaining skills! There’s so much choice, the people are so kind and most importantly, they’re fair. Our advice is to negotiate with a smile on your face and don’t get put off by the owners following you about the shop; they just want to be available if you need help.
Flying into Koh Samui we saw lush green jungles and beautiful beaches, just what we were hoping for. The airport is amazing, all open air and feels like you are already on the beach. However, I might have made a boo-boo when booking our accommodation… We were staying in a grotty part of the ‘main strip’ which felt a lot like a generic Spanish beach resort. Complete with grubby tourists, crappy over-priced food and devoid of any true Thai culture.
However, we made the best of our situation. Got out on some trips and spent the downtime catching up on life admin – on the plus side we had some semi-decent internet!
Snorkelling Koh Nang & Koh Tao
What better way to spend a day, than snorkelling around paradise islands. On this trip we ventured out to Koh Nang and Koh Tao with a boat load of predominantly Chinese tourists. In truth we had pretty low expectations. It felt very touristy and what with so many boat loads being ferried back and forth to these destinations, we doubted what would remain of their ‘pristine’ nature. Upon arriving at one island, we were initially struck with just how beautiful it was. Although this impression was immediately dashed when herds upon herds of tourists arrived and turned the once tranquil scene into a circus.
We had brought our mask and snorkels so went for a swim. Expecting another beach with reefs destroyed by stampeding tourists, our expectations proved to be reality with only the scars remaining of what was once presumably a beautiful reef. That was until we got about 20m from the shore. The barren bottom transformed into lush reef once more. We had a fantastic hour snorkelling out on our own. Then we looked back at shore to witness the ‘sea of neon’ and the source to the reef’s destruction. The herds of tourists had all donned life vests and were nosily kicking up a sand storm where the water was waste deep.
The rest of our time on the island we chilled out and watched the neon sea from the beach. It was very funny to watch them fumble about. One lady in particular had put her mask on upside down (goodness knows how) and despite being surrounded by loads of friends and family, nobody seemed to notice. She had a confusing time trying to work out how to snorkel when her mask leaked so profusely.
A great tip when travelling is just to walk that extra 50 metres past the crowd. It is amazing how destructive and lazy people can be and how incredible it is just a little away from the horde.
At lunch we learnt how the Thai’s refer to the Chinese. As we were walking to lunch the friendly and very funny Thai guide was calling to us “ Hurry, Hurry… get food before the Chiney’s come. They eat a lot and make a mess”. It amused us greatly and throughout our trip we then noticed a common theme among the Thai’s approach to managing the ‘Chiney’s’.
Escaping the ‘resort’ for some greenery, we headed up into the hills for an adrenaline fuelled afternoon for an off-road tour. Usually we would opt for a quad bike each, but this time we had the chance to buddy up and try something new to us! From X-Quad Samui, we hired a CF MOTO Z800 – for those in the know…
Driving a 4×4 buggy is immensely good fun. So much of the fun was having Michael beside me, egging me on and being equally as silly! We were separated from the main group and went on our own faster paced adventure through the wilderness. Then ending our drive with a questionable swim under a waterfall, through an underwater tunnel and into a tranquil pool on the other side.
Nai Yang Beach
Spoiler, I broke myself…
I can be a bit of a clumsy oaf at times. For a small person, I manage to walk into/trip over the smallest of obstacles (door frames are my speciality). One warm and sunny afternoon, strolling along the beach I tripped over my own feet – and hurt my hand…”it’ll be fine” she said.
Having well and truly caught the kite surfing bug in Cairns. We ventured to Nai Yang beach to brush up on our skills, and to be *hopefully* deemed good enough to be let out with a board, well, in my case anyway!! It’s not really kite surfing season in July, but to keep the sport going, the surf companies move to Nai Yang beach. There’s a lot of waves and trying to kite surf with waves lashing in your face wasn’t ideal for beginners!
Michael is much, much better at this kite surfing malarkey than me, but what I lack in skill, I make up for in stubborn determination! He did pretty well and got up on the board a good few times before our time was up. I however, got up once, (at a push), before the weather turned and was forced back to the beach.
We met a delightful taxi driver who called himself Mr Porn. We tried questioning him on his choice of ‘Western’ name, but I believe something was lost in translation. Either way, he was a very friendly and helpful chap who we called upon a few times whist in Phuket!
We accidentally timed our arrival into Phuket city very well… Just in time for the weekly night time food market. Such a tasty evening walking and eating our way around the market. What’s even better was it was really genuine and as a tourist we were the minority.
Thailand’s Beautiful Islands
Another day, another snorkel trip! This time around Phang Nga Bay, which included a sail-by of James Bond Island, yes, the very same island from that James Bond film I can’t remember the name of! (dad tells me it’s The Man With The Golden Gun!) We had a really enjoyable time snorkelling and jumping off the boat. Then kayaking through caves and saying hello to the local monkeys!
Koh Phi Phi
As with much of Thailand, we were a little dubious about going to Koh Phi Phi, after all, we’re not 18-25 anymore!! Once again, we were very pleased at what we found, Phi Phi is very busy and touristy. However it seems to attract a nicer group of tourist. Perhaps because it’s that little bit more difficult to get to, those that go, really want to be there!
It’s clear to see why Phi Phi is so popular, with it’s lush green hillsides, rocky cliffs and warm blue waters. This place is beautiful. We blissfully spent a lot of our time walking the island, taking it all in.
The only negative thing I would say about Phi Phi is the accommodation options! As “chief-accommodation-finder” I found it tricky to find something, decent! A little burnt from Koh Samui, I was keen not to make the same mistake twice So I booked us in somewhere (what I would consider by Thailand standards) a bit pricey! But I just felt like we paid a lot, for not a lot. I guess it’s just a different standard to the mainland. Regardless, Koh Phi Phi is beautiful and somewhere I would love to go back to.
Scuba Diving Phi Phi
At last, after however many dives, I finally feel at ease under the water. Which is just as well as we had one of those Asian diving experiences that reputable dive instructors warn you about!
Our dive guide wasn’t great at monitoring our air usage, in fact she was hopeless. Luckily, we had a good few dives logged at this stage and were comfortable with our equipment and dive planning. We were getting concerned that our air was getting low and so signalled to her. Naively, we thought that would trigger her to return to the boat and the process of ascending, like any competent divemaster would, but she wasn’t! It got to the point on the eventual ascent that Michael ran out of air and had to use my emergency air to complete the safety stop. We were pretty pissed off at her reckless intention for us to surface with zero air remaining.
Drama aside, the first dive was awesome! We saw huge shoals of fish which was a new diving sight for me! The second dive, not so impressive. To be polite it was a total joke, our guide got us lost and we swam off into the blue abyss with nothing to see other than the barren sight of sand at the bottom! We saw it all happening, but had no means of signalling to her because she didn’t look back long enough to catch our eye. Needless to say we weren’t too impressed with this lady!
The Consequence of my Fall
I can only be in denial about my sore hand for so long. Post dive my hand was still very swollen and sore from my fall last week. So, it was time to go to the medical centre and assess the damage. One x-ray later and it’s clear as day, I have a broken hand. Yup, my fifth metacarpal, it’s broken! My first broken bone, in Thailand of all places. Hard as nails, me!
To the Hospital…
Back on the mainland and a quick phone call to Mr Porn, we were on our way to Bangkok International Hospital. After a previous experience in a very basic hospital in Madagascar, I was a little apprehensive (bloody terrified) of having to go to a Thai hospital, with a broken hand.
Expectations dashed again! Bangkok International is the fanciest hospital I have ever known! So clean, so spacious and such a personal service! I was very impressed, (not sure if the travel insurance company will feel the same way!)
A few needles of local anaesthetic later, a nice doctor pushed and pulled my bones back into realignment. Whist I giggled through the whole procedure. Then popped my hand in a splint and sent me on my merry way. Not without paying my medical bill first.
It is always tough to sum up a country after only a handful of weeks. Thailand is so impressive, together with its people, culture and natural sights. Unfortunately, at times it is a victim of its own virtue’s. Tourists have invaded the country and subtracted from what makes the country so incredible. If you put that aside however and put in the effort to escape the hordes, then Thailand is one of our favourite places in the world. Mostly thanks to how friendly the people are. We can’t wait to go back and explore more!