I always think that the success of a holiday is largely made by the people you meet there. Going to a nice place helps of course, but usually as a lone traveller the opportunity to meet people is important to me.
The first thing I shall say about Thai people is that they are extremely friendly.
The second thing I shall say about the Thai people is that sometimes they are too friendly. But I’ll come back to that later.
Thailand is a country of outstanding beauty, a country of real spirituality and a country filled with pride and joy. These are the vibes which made me love Thailand and will hopefully come across in my blog.
The first place I arrived in after a brief stop-over in Singapore was Patong, probably the main tourist resort on the island of Phuket.
I wasn’t really prepared for what I was about to experience. Talk about being dropped in it at the deep end.
Patong is what I have since heard described as Phuket’s very own “sin city”. I’ve not been to Bangkok, but all of the stories you hear about it are also true for Patong. Swathes of neon lights and hedonistic party-goers flood the streets every night. I wasn’t a fan, but it was definitely an experience I’ll remember.
Initially I found it quite funny, girls calling out “Hello, handsome man!” and all that. However I was soon to find that it wasn’t all verbal advertisement, and walking past the first “massage” shop I was physically man-handled as a pretty young girl tried to drag me inside. As politely as I could I resisted and went around my business of walking around, rucksack on my back, trying to find somewhere to stay as quickly as I could.
I found that other things in Thailand were advertised in a similar way. Suit-sellers with hilarious practiced Cockney and Aussie accents who shook your hand in a “you will never let go fashion”. Taxi and rickshaw drivers stopping and tooting and shouting “Tuk-tuk!” or “Where you go?” at you. Bars were advertised in a similar way to massage parlours – swarms of girls trying to tempt you inside. This kind of thing could be seen all over Thailand, although Patong took it to another level.
It doesn’t take much to see past the out of control tourism which you do find in Thailand and it’s pretty easy to avoid the extremely touristy places too. I quickly learned how to cope with the chaos (the key word to remember is “No!” in pretty much every situation), but Patong just wasn’t my kind of place. Needless to say I only stayed there overnight before I ventured to the famous beach paradise of Koh Phi Phi.
Koh Phi Phi Don is probably the most beautiful island I have ever been to. I’d heard a lot about it. It’s been a staple on the backpacker route for years, with the book/film “The Beach” (inspired by near neighbour Koh Phi Phi Lay to which a boat trip is definitely worthwhile) drawing in even more fans. Luckily for me, it was extremely quiet when I was there, despite it not being too far off season. (I went during the terrible violence in Bangkok of a couple of years ago which had obviously put a lot off visiting Thailand at that time.)
So, amazingly, I could sit on this incredible beach with just a few people watching the sun go down, instead of the hordes of tourists normally seen in the high season.
Reluctantly, after four full days relaxing on Koh Phi Phi I had to leave. It was disappointing, but then I had to leave because I was off to Koh Tao to learn how to scuba dive, so it wasn’t all bad.
The journey to Koh Tao on the Eastern side of Thailand was pretty painless, but the boat journey was definitely one to remember. The boat from Surat Thani was an overnight journey, and you get a bed. Brilliant, you think. Travelling and saving accommodation money at the same time.
Arriving at the boat with a few keen climbers I had met on route we all had a bit of a shock. (Strangely enough, meeting someone from the same region I live in when abroad, makes me develop a really strong accent. Why is that?!) The boat was actually a cargo boat, with the passenger bit upstairs. And the bed is just one giant mattress that you all share. Talk about having to make friends with your neighbours quickly! We also soon discovered that the cargo part of the boat meant that we were sharing the bed with quite a few interesting insects too, including some friendly cockroaches. Needless to say, most of us stayed up all night, playing cards or sitting on the edge of the boat with our feet almost dangling in the water. I’m sure many a tourist must have fallen off there in the past.
Anyway, Koh Tao. Diving proved to be one of the most liberating things I have ever done. It’s such a wonderful experience being that close to nature. I was so glad that I took the plunge (sorry) and I ended up staying here far longer than expected. In fact, I dived until I got blisters from the fins, and the blisters got infected until I couldn’t walk very well! But the things I saw were so worth it, huge sad looking groupers, an aggressive trigger fish (swim away fast!), graceful eagle rays, lionfish, a night dive with hunting barracuda and of course, scores of bat fish, angel fish and the household favourite, the clownfish (Nemo). I couldn’t recommend it highly enough. Go and do it!!
Firstly, one quick tip for any wannabe divers in Thailand. I’m very slightly asthmatic, and for insurance purposes more than anything else I needed a doctor’s note to say I was fine to dive. Unfortunately, I’d forgotten to bring one with me so I had to go to a Thai doctor. The doctor wasn’t the problem, but jumping on the back of this Thai bloke’s bike (I’d never been on a motorbike before) whilst whizzing along the potholed and bumpy roads of Koh Tao was probably far more dangerous than diving without insurance! So go prepared!
Eventually I couldn’t dive any more so I flew up north to Chiang Mai, via quick stopovers in Koh Samui and Koh Phangan. So away from the sun-drenched beaches, up to the mountainous north I went. Chiang Mai was a lovely city, bustling with a proper chilled out hippy-ish vibe and lots of beautiful temples. The walking markets were amazing, all kinds of crafts, clothing, and interesting food that I had no idea what most of it was! Tasted good though!
The standard tour most people seem to do in Northern Thailand is a rafting / trek / elephant ride. I did a one day trip as I was pushed for time towards the end of my holiday, but found it was a little gimmicky. Good fun, but a half hour walk doesn’t count as a trek to me! If I were you I recommend skipping these and going somewhere a little further out – like Chiang Dao, the last place I went on my month in Thailand. I wish I’d gone here earlier, as it was a beautiful little mountain village where the Thai people were really pleased to see tourists. I spent a few days walking around the hills, finding little hidden temples, and breathing in the spectacular views.
I do wish I’d gone here earlier, as there is a particularly spectacular looking mountain you could do a two day hike up. One day I reckon!
The thing that I found so refreshing about Thailand compared to other places I’ve been to so far was the kindness of their people. They are extremely calm and patient people – very useful when they are trying to show you where you are on the tiny little tourist map you’ve had folded up in your pocket. I should note though, having seen Thai boxing on the telly, I would never try to wind up a Thai! Frightening…
I’m sure the nature of Thai people, and the slow pace of life there, comes from Buddhism. I’m not a particularly religious person myself, but the aura of serenity and relaxation you get inside Buddhist temples (aside from those which are full of school trips) is tangible. The sheer number of temples (or Wat) is amazing, and the majority of these have clearly taken a lot of care and creativity to build. They are guarded by creatures, often dragons, but all of these temples are different. Whether you understand/follow religion or not, temple-spotting if definitely something you should do in Thailand.
As well as being a very religious people, the Thais are also very patriotic. All around Thailand the royal family are revered, but in the north this seemed particularly strong. In some places they even play the national anthem in the streets every day, and everyone stops what they are doing and stands in respect. I couldn’t imagine anything like that in Britain. Maybe the Olympics will liven us up for a month or so, but I doubt it’ll last!
Anyway, that kind of brings me to the end of my little blog about Thailand, I hope it whetted your appetite for travel.
I loved Thailand so much, that I went back the following year – although this time it was for a relaxing beach holiday in Kata, Phuket to recharge my batteries.
The pace of life was so perfect for this that I accomplished two major firsts:
- I finished my first novel; and
- For the first time in my life, I was so chilled out that I grew fingernails.
I still have them!