Australian Abroad, Keen Capoeirista, Museum Mogul, Budding Blogger, Thirsty Traveller – currently Itapuã, Salvador, Brazil
In April this year the husband and I spent two weeks in Thailand, also meeting up for about half that time with some friends, and it was magical. Thailand is so beautiful, with amazing beaches as well as forests and mountains, awesome food, lovely people. Definitely somewhere I would like to return some day, and an experience I would like to share.
Being in the airport for a few hours before a flight is always a bit of a bummer, but the one thing I look forward to is having a meal – any meal, but especially breakfast – at Wonder Tree. This time it was dinner and I had the Chicken and Brie Burger, which was delicious.
Arriving in Bangkok
Travelling from the airport into central Bangkok on the sky train is a great way to start the holiday, as you see the city unfolding before you. We still needed to get a taxi from the end of the train line to our hotel on Khao San Roan, but the train is also great for cutting time and money of the journey. We stayed at the Dang Derm on Khao San Road. We were worried that it would be noisy because of the clubs on the street, but it wasn’t.
We only had the one night in Bangkok before setting off early the next day so we stuck to Khao San Road and the surrounding area, walking through the tourist market stall and then having dinner – my first of many Pad Thais on the holiday did not disappoint. We wandered on and found a bar with live music, a band doing covers of famous English songs. It is a little surreal as you recognise the songs and now the words, but if you listen carefully, many of the performers aren’t actually singing the lyrics, just words that resemble them – quite a talent in itself. As you sit around with drinks street vendors approach selling many things, the most notable fried scorpion. I wasn’t keen to try one having had some in China, and also they don’t seem fresh as the sellers have been wandering around with them for ages – but we did convince one of our friends to try it!
We flew from Bangkok’s domestic airport to Chiang Mai – we stayed at the Dream House which was a small guest house, but nice. This is where we learnt that anyone can book you anything – taxi, day trip, boat trip – and want to because they get some kind of commission. We booked quite a lot of things with our host at Dream House, including Muay Thai and he explained that for us to buy it there its 400BHT, he would charge us 300BHT and later he would give the venue 200BHT – illuminating.
We were fortunate to arrive on Sunday, as that is the day of the big Chiang Mai street market, so we spent the afternoon exploring the temples in the city before hitting the market. It was cool, less touristy than the stalls in Khao San Road, lots of food to try!! We also found a place where a local jazz band was playing, they were really good!
On our next day in Chiang Mai we headed for Elephant Nature Park, about a 2 hour drive from the city, on an organised tour. It was a bit harrowing at first, on the bus on the way there they made us watch a video about the poor treatment of elephants, how they are trained and treated cruelly, and how even riding in an elephant is painful to them as their backs are not designed to carry weight in that way. Then you drive past several places where you see people riding elephants before arriving at the sanctuary. The sanctuary was amazing though. The first thing we did was feed some elephants, getting up so close and touching their trunks was amazing.
The rest of the day pretty much consisted of wandering around the sanctuary with our guides being shown all the elephants on the reserve, told stories about where they come from and their personalities, and answering our questions. The last thing we did was wash the elephants, which basically consisted of standing around an elephant in the river and throwing water at it. This was not overly fulfilling, as the first thing an elephant does after washing itself is pick up dirt with its trunk and throw it over its back to protect itself from the sun!
We also had a great lunch at the sanctuary – they cook all fresh vegetarian food, and there was so much to choose from, it was great. Lunch was also an opportunity to meet other people who have come up to the sanctuary. I love speaking to other people about their travels, but I must say that I find that people who are well travelled, especially if they are currently on their big trip, do like to talk about it *a lot* – one of those situation where if someone mentions a place or a food or an experience they have a story and they very much dominate the conversation. We also had an ‘authentic’ traveller, those people who talk about going places and steering away from touristy areas and making sure they eat where the locals eat, and don’t get ripped off etc. I think that is great and I aspire to do that as well, but it can sometimes feel a bit evangelical, and judgemental of other travellers. Besides, they were on the organised trip to the elephant sanctuary with the rest of us…
That evening back in Chiang Mai we went for dinner at a rooftop bar which was nice for seeing the city, and then got a tuk tuk further out to go to the Night Bazaar and see the Muay Thai. At the Bazaar I had my first ice-cream of the holiday, delicious homemade stuff – the first of many! The Muay Thai was interesting, but we didn’t really get it. Every single time we predicted a winner on the basis of how we felt the fight was going we were wrong! Clearly we did not understand the rules. Muay Thai has a reputation of being really tough, but it wasn’t like that at all, they spent a lot of time testing one another, seeing how they approached it, and then playing tactically for points. They spent a lot of time on the ropes kneeing each other, which clearly earned points. The thing I found most frustrating is that they often dropped their guard after an attack or a defence, rather than using that as an opportunity to go in for the attack. Clearly just did not understand how it all works!
The next day we went on another bus trip, this time to Doi Inthanon National Park. This included a nice (short) nature walk on Thailand’s tallest peak, which is also the lowest reach of the Himalayas, so now I have been at the lowest and highest points.
We then went to Phra Mahathat Napha Menthanidon and Phra Matathat Napha Non Bhumisin, twin pagodas for the king and queen with really beautiful gardens.
This was followed by a trip to a local market where we got some amazing sweet nuts and dried candied fruit, then a trip to two waterfalls and the White Karin traditional Burmese village. That was a bit strange, felt a lot like walking into someone’s living room while they were using it and everyone just not acknowledging that something strange was happening.
That evening we went out on a street that seemed dedicated to rock, and was decorated overhead with lots of open umbrellas.
It was nice there, good music and good vibes. We saw this great sign – no Wi-Fi, drink and talk to each other!
That is something I noticed on the holiday, a lot of people spending a lot of time on their phones. At one point I was sat by myself as the husband went to the bathroom, I looked around and everyone around me sat in their groups was on their phone – I took some sneaky pictures. I’m just old enough that my first travel experiences were pre smart phone, and it was different, the way you unplugged from everything else, just immersed yourself in the new culture, and really spent time with the people you were travelling with rather than on Facebook. Oh well, I guess it is up to me how I choose to behave on my holidays.
Koh Samui – Mae Nam
From Chiang May we split with our friends and headed for some islanding on Koh Samui for about 4 days. The airport in Koh Samui set a good vibe, it is an outdoor patio style area, so you are off the plane and directly into the glorious weather.
The airport sorts people into taxis based on their destination – you can’t really get a private taxi – and sent us on our way.
We stayed at a really nice place called the Hammock with a room directly overlooking the beach, where the hotel also had a pretty nice restaurant and bar, and laid out deck chairs and everything, so it was quite busy and vibrant in the afternoon and evening, but you could often get the beach to yourself in the morning. Every day on Koh Samui I started my day with about an hour walk on the beach, just enjoying being there.
In Mae Nam we really just indulged in the beach, swimming in the ocean, reading and snoozing on the beach. There loads of good restaurants around as well, a lot of them right on the beach. One of the best places we went was called the Sea View and we had an amazing, spicy, deep fried whole fish.
In another place I accidentally ordered an entire 500ml bottle of whiskey for myself. The waiter was walking away and the husband was like, wait I want a beer, and he was like, really? When the drinks came out we understood and all had a laugh.
On Thursday night it was the ‘walking street’ market in Mae Nam – they seem to have these everywhere on different days, and in some busy areas pretty much every day. It is just stalls selling all the same stuff you see everywhere in Thailand, plus street food and little places serving cocktails. While it might not have been the kind of market where you find hidden gems, it had a really good vibe and was a nice evening.
On one day we decided to walk to Bophut Fisherman’s Village, with was only 2 miles away, but walking was a mistake. It was so hot, the husband had to buy a new shirt when we got there because he was so sweaty! It was a really nice area with lots of little shops and bars, but quite expensive, much more so than Mae Nam. It is, however, where I encountered Nutella ice cream. I love Nutella. This was a revelation.
After Mae Nam, we jumped on a boat to take us to Koh Tao and meet up with our friends again. The boat is pretty good, it took less than 2 hours, but it was very busy. Landing on Koh Tao we met up with our friends and jumped in a taxi, which is a ute, and you ride in the back with the bags – it was good fun. We went down to explore and found a lot of bars right on the beach. Pretty much all the bars had fire shows, young men spinning fire on sticks or chains. It was quite good, but it went on for more than two hours.
The next morning we woke up early to head to Koh Nang Yuan, a small but famous island off Koh Tao. We got this cool water taxi over to the island.
The island is famous for its viewpoint where you can see three connected island. We arrived at 9am just as they were opening and the first thing we did was go up there and check it out before it gets busy – which is does later. I say ‘open’ because they do close the island, and you have to pay to get on the island, and you aren’t allowed to bring water bottles onto the island as they don’t want litter (and want to sell you their water). They were also very worried about sand being taken away and the island eroding. There were lots of little water pools that they wanted you to walk through the wash the sand off your feet so you didn’t take it with you.
Later we borrowed a snorkel and took turns looking in the ocean around the island, there were loads of cool fish. You could see them just in the water as it was so clear, but the snorkel was a whole new world!
When we returned to Koh Tao we got a taxi to our next hotel. This ride was a bit scary as the hotel was up in the mountains and there were extreme climbs and dips, and also lots of trees slapping us in the face. But it was worth it. The hotel, Naroua Villa, was amazing with an infinity pool and a shower with a full window that looked from the mountain over the ocean.
The reason we were staying in such a nice place was that our friend had plans to propose to his girlfriend. I won’t share their story with you, but she did say yes!
Koh Samui – Lamai
From Koh Tao we all returned to Koh Samui, this time to Lamai, a much more touristy part of the island. Over the few days we explored both Lamai and Chaweng, which are both full of shops and bars and clubs. We saw our first ‘lady bars’ that Thailand is famous for. It was interesting, while the place in general was busy, individual restaurants and bars were all pretty quiet – and usually if there are only a couple of people in a place I won’t go in as it seems they aren’t very good, but I think there were just so many places that people were just spread out.
In Lamai we were told that a highlight was the grandmother and grandfather rocks which are meant to look like a man and a woman – knowing what I was looking for I could see the man, but not really getting it.
However there were markets around the rock where we had some amazing coconut ice-cream. After this first time we saw this quite a few places, and it was really good.
The best food we had in Lamai was at a little restaurant on the side of the road that looked like nothing, mismatched garden furniture, but it was recommended to us by the receptionist at our hotel and it was amazing. I had a Massaman curry, which was amazing! We stayed at Lazy Days resort, it was really nice.
In the Lamai area we also went to a traditional Muslim fishing village, it was interesting to see how some people on Thailand live. I say some people as I think there is a lot of difference in people’s quality of life, and this is just one example. The rubbish on the ground washes up from neighbouring islands, and apparently they don’t clean it up in protest.
Back to Bangkok
We parted from our friends to spend a few days back in Bangkok before we left for home. As well as spending time in the markets and bars around Khao San Road, we saw some different parts of the city. We took a boat trip around the city, and then took the sky train to Siam where we encountered a massive modern shopping centre. There we went to the aquarium, which was inside the shopping centre. It was pretty cool. At the centre we also went to the imax to see Captain America. Part of me felt a little unhappy to be there as this isn’t the ‘real’ Thailand, but to be fair we weren’t surrounded by tourists, we were surrounded by Thais – some people (a lucky minority I’m sure) do live this way.
So anyway, overall a great holiday with a mix of intensive exploring and sightseeing, as well as relaxing and taking time out. Ready to be back in the real world, and looking forward to the next trip!