Bangkok is the most full on city I have ever been to. After 16 hours of travel, we stumbled out onto Koh San road; the backpacker centre of the city. The first thing to hit you is the heat, and then the noise; the whole city is buzzing with motors, music and shouting. Being a western traveler, we were a bit of a target to the locals, and it was only a matter of seconds before we were being offered suits, tattoos and food of all sorts. Apart from our first and last flight, we had not booked a single thing for the month we were out here, and so the search began for a place to stay. Thankfully there are a plethora of hostels in Bangkok, and so we didn’t need to walk far before we found one for a steal at £3.50 each. The saying “you get what you pay for” could not be more true in this situation: our hostel came with no AC, an odd smell and some even odder backpackers. We did manage to find a way onto the rooftop, where we enjoyed many a night relaxing with music in Bangkok’s evening haze.
Scams are definitely something to be wary of in Thailand, and I am embarrassed to say that we fell for one on the first day. After a rough first night, we walked out into the street and straight into the arms of a smiling man who promised to take us to the infamous Bangkok floating markets for only £5. Thinking this would be a great way to spend the day, we naively agreed, and were whisked away in his taxi to a location one hour outside of Bangkok. After arriving at the “floating markets” (it was more of a canal which was lined with tacky souvenir shops), we were told that we would have to pay £50 extra each to have a look. This took us completely by surprise, and not wanting to have wasted the trip out here, we haggled hard till we reached a price of £15 each. The boat trip was fun, but a sour taste was left after our first life lesson in Thailand.
Bangkok did give us many amazing experiences. One of those was a abundance of street food. Street food sounds dodgy, but it is actually much safer, cheaper and tastier than restaurant food! For around £1 you can get an amazing pad thai or fried rice (these became the majority of our diet during the trip!). Another experience is the Bangkok nightlife; when the sun goes down, the music turns up. The population of Koh San road doubles, and the bars spill onto the street with travellers and locals alike. Bangkok was an amazing shock to the senses, but the noise soon becomes almost too much, and so with a last farewell we got onto our night train to the northern city of Chiangmai.
Falling asleep in the city and waking up in the jungle was pretty surreal. Our 13 hour train wound it’s way up the spine of Thailand till we reached the northern capital: Chiangmai. Chiangmai is the polar opposite of Bangkok. The streets are quiet and thankfully no one is trying to sell you anything. The one thing similar is the availability of street food, except the quality is so much better in the north. After spending a while sourcing a good hostel, we discovered an amazing pad thai vendor who became our regular for the next few days.
Chiangmai is most renowned for its temples; mainly because they’re beautiful and there are a lot of them. We spent a whole day hopping from temple to temple, chatting with the extremely friendly locals a long the way. During one rainstorm, we were sheltering under someone’s veranda, and they came out with hot tea to warm us up! It was this incredible hospitality and the laid back vibe of the city which really made it one of our favourite places in Thailand.
The key part of our journey in the north was the three day jungle trek we partook in. After riding in a pickup truck to an hour outside of Chiangmai, we met up with our guide and two other backpackers from the Netherlands. The first day involved a short trek through the jungle to a waterfall. Because of how smooth the rock was, we could slide/fall down the 30ft torrent; only after making the guide go first to make sure he wasn’t joking. Our home for that night was a bamboo hut in this tiny village in the mountains. There was no electricity, but the views were incredible and we had an amazing evening watching the sunset over the mountains. We hadn’t really experienced much rain on the trip yet, but we were woken up that night by water coming through the roof and walls because of the most torrential downpour. The storm had lifted by the morning, and the fresh sun filtered through the clouds as we awoke. The locals were also there in the morning (as they had been our whole time there), desperate to chat with us to practice their English. It was great fun teaching them new phrases and seeing their eyes light up in joy when they talked to you. The storm from the night before had flooded the river and muddied the track, making our next day of hiking very challenging. We walked downhill till we reached the river and a huge waterfall which had a small pool next to it which we could swim in. The rest of the trek went down the river, but the high waters had washed away the bamboo bridges and so we spent most of the hike waist deep in water! Our guide was crazy, and he would shoot fruit out of the trees with his catapult to give to us as snacks. The high water had meant that we couldn’t do the rafting we had planned to do, but we were able to go down a lower stretch which had elephants bathing in the river with us! The next night was at an elephant sanctuary, and we spent the rest of the day feeding and washing the many elephants in the camp. There was another group at this camp, and it was fun to chat about our stories from our trip so far. The village was also home to some long neck villagers (people who wear rings around their neck) and so that evening we joined in with their dancing and music around the fire. The final day was only a short walk, and before we knew it we were back in the mellow atmosphere of Chiangmai.
Koh Samui and Koh Phangan
After being told that the bus down to Koh Samui (a tropical island in the south) would take 30 hours, we thought it might be advisable to look at flights instead. As it turned out, the transport system in Thailand is back to front, and flights ended up being cheaper than the bus! With our mood boosted and also our stamina, we drifted through the clouds to the beach. Koh Samui is quite built up, but the beaches are incredible. Our hostel (we decided to up the price to £5 a night to get some AC) was only a two minute walk from Chaweng beach, which is one of the most popular but beautiful beaches on the island. On one of the days, in an attempt to escape the crowds, we travelled to Fisherman’s Village, which is a quiet village on the north side. The beach is deserted, apart from the odd hammock and palm tree, and you can spend all day watching the locals cast their nets in the shallows.
Next to Koh Samui is the island of Koh Phangan, where the infamous full moon party is held. This event is held once a month to celebrate the full moon, and thousands of people migrate to the island for the festivities. The night is filled with fire acts and music on the beach, and we met many of the friends who we had met on the trip here. At the end of the evening, whilst I was looking for Alex, I accidentally knocked over a tv. The police (who were hanging around waiting for something to happen) proceeded to arrest me and take me to prison. Life lesson no.2: don’t knock over someone’s tv. After being made to pay for the tv (at a rather inflated price), I was set free to reunite with my friends and this story soon became the joke of the trip. However, we had not come out to Thailand just settle in one place, and the traveling bug was urging us to move on.
Koh Phi Phi and Phuket
The islands on the west are a different kettle of fish to the islands on the east. The beaches are replaced with towering cliffs and the sunshine is replaced by a lot more rain. Phi Phi was our first stop, and the small island was quick to become our favourite of the trip. The island is formed of two rocky mountains connected by a thin strip of land. There is only one town, which has no roads but is completely stuffed full with dive centres, hostels and beach bars. We decided to take a day trip on one of the iconic long tail boats around the island, and visit the infamous “beach” from the Leonardo di Caprio film. As expected it was overrun with people, but the surrounding bays were what really sold the island too us. Spending the rest of the day swimming and snorkelling in lagoons with soaring limestone cliffs on all sides was magical to say the least, and it was topped off by the sunset we saw as the boat motored back to port.
Phuket was unlike any island we had been too. Huts were replaced by high rises and locals were replaced by tourists; the sense of adventure we had had on our trip so far had been washed away (metaphorically and literally). Our first night in Phuket we found the cheapest hostel we could find, and our stinginess was punished again. Cockroaches in the bathroom and non existent mattresses were few of the main traits of this “hostel from hell”. Something which still makes us laugh today was the fact that the owner of the hostel slept in the dorm as well, and proceeded to snore the whole night! After a very sleepless night, we went on the hostel hunt for the infinite time. However this time we struck gold and came across an amazing dorm, filled with like minded backpackers to chat and share stories with. Having worried about Phuket being too touristy, we heard about a beach we could walk to which was completely deserted. Thirsty for an adventure, we left on our hunt for serenity the next morning. The walk took us over an hour through sweltering heat and intense humidity, but it was worth it when we emerged from the jungle to see the beach we had been told about. Apart from a few other locals, the beach was deserted, and we spent the whole evening there.
Having said our goodbyes, Alex and I split paths, him to Bangkok and me to Singapore. I only had three days in Singapore, but the city was a breath of fresh air. After 4 weeks in Thailand I had grown a new appreciation for cleanliness, and Singapore really did provide. From the botanic gardens to marina bay sands, the city is a hub for development and opportunities, and it really inspired me. The family I was staying with were extremely hospitable and made my stay there a fantastic end to the trip. On the flight home I began to realise just how much I had learnt from the month we had spent travelling, and also how lucky I was to be able to go on such an adventure.