Thailand. In July. It was decided. Rainseason or not. Fuc*it. My boyfriend Ruben, his 14y old daughter Amber, and I… 3 weeks of … no weddings, no stress, and no editing.
I purchased a Fujifilm XT1 because I didn’t want to carry my heavy Canon gear, and because I also was a bit scared in case it would be damaged or stolen or whatever… I needed my professional gear for the rest of my wedding season…
The journey started in Busy Bangkok. As it was the first time for Amber to be in another continent, we were a little bit ‘worried’ how she would react on the different culture and the busy and hectic Asian life. It turned out to be ok. It indeed was hectic, hot and very humid. As always, non-city persons we are, we wanted to leave the city asap. We were tired of it after 3 days. Our entire bodies screamed it out: let’s go away. But then it turned out (as always when you don’t plan anything at all) that we had to stay one extra night for the next night train with available beds to Chiang Mai.
A few tips on Bangkok:
- Transportation: combination of Skytrain, the Water Taxis on the main river (don’t take the tourist boat, but the express line) and on the canals , metro, and tuktuk (for small distances)
- Be prepared for bad smell. Almost always, everywhere.
- Food: streetfood. Lonely Planet shows some good spots. We tried out a few, and it’s really good. In the shopping malls you also have a few good spots, mostly in the basement floor, where you can eat very good for a low price (around 70-80B)
- The main tourist attractions are flooded with toooooo many people. The Palace was one of them. I ended up going alone cause Ruben and Amber were already disgusted by the amount of people standing in line for a ticket. It’s pretty expensive, and to be honest, not worth the money. (Ok it’s beautiful, but thàt many people stress me out)
- Be prepared you have to cover up lower and upper body if you wanna visit temples or palaces or anything religious. Respect that…
- Night train to Chiang Mai. You have 1st class private 4 bed rooms, which are the most expensive, and you also have 1st class wagons where there are no private rooms, basically 40 people in a wagon. As the first option was fully booked, we took the second option. And really, you don’t need anything more. Super clean, very comfortable. Everything you could wish for on a night train!
In the extra day we had to kill our time in Bangkok, we decided to make a day trip to the ancient site Ayuttaya. Traintrip. Tuktuk, full tour, yes oh yes. Done. Hot times, but worth doing. (if you are smarter than us, you better do it on your way to Chiang Mai, you can also catch the night train in Ayuttaya station…)
From Bangkok we took the night train to Chiang Mai. TIP: At arrival in Bangkok, planning to go up North to Chiang Mai, make it a priority to book your night train FIRST THING. We had to stay one extra day because it was fully booked, which was really a bummer.
The vibe in Chiang Mai is completely different. The atmosphere is way more relaxed, with cosy little streets, markets, but also Thai Box, and some nightlife. We stayed in a very beautiful, modern lodge, Rumpai Loft, a few miles outside the city, which had its advantages and disadvantages (the taxi drivers didn’t know the location…). We stayed 2 days. The first day we walked around the old town, took our first Thai Massage, and we booked a day trip to one of the Elephant Farms in the region. A day to remember. But in the city of Chiang May, we still felt like this place was too touristic and too busy, so we decided to head further north.
A few tips on Chiang Mai:
- Elephant Parks. PLEASE don’t be fooled of all the advertisements you see at the hundreds of tour operators. 85% of them are bad, meaning, they ride the elephants, they do elephant shows and stuff. These animals will be chained, and are tortured every day. Tips Thailand (for Dutch readers) made an awesome post about this sensitive topic. Please read it here.
- More on previous topic. So called ‘Elephant Nature Park‘ is known to be the best. Unfortunately, it’s fully booked almost all year long. Reserve your place asap if you wanna go there. We decided to visit another good elephant retirement home, so called ‘Happy Elephant Home‘. It was an overwhelming experience in every way. Elephants are kept in an area of a few hectares, where, during the day, they can move free. They are not chained, not mistreated, not ridden, they don’t have to perform in stupid shows… There were 4 adults and one baby. We fed them sugarcane, washed them in the mud, and walked them (all free) to the river where they could take a fresh bath and pee in the river while we were standing next to them 🙂
- Thai Box. They make publicity all over town, on every corner of the street. It’s worth seeing once. Quite brutal though, but great atmosphere, and the arena is in the busy nightlife neighborhood… (which we left immediately after the game).
- Thai Massage. It hurts, and we didn’t know that, haha. We got our first Thai Massage by blind people. It was a very special experience. This is a real recommendation: here.
Pai. Damn. What an amazing vibe. The road to this tiny hippy town close to the Chinese border, was one of many turns around many hills. Unfortunately we shared our minivan with 5 Chinese vomiting women. But we made it. We searched for a nice lodge, which we found on a hill, overlooking the beautiful valley. The 3 coming days we enjoyed walking and cruising around the city and the valley with our fancy ‘motorbikes’ (which we call a scooter). We explored the entire area, had some amazing hikes around Pai Canyon, visited some waterfalls, and took cooking lessons at Pai Cookery School.
Some Pai tips:
- This is a hippy town. And it’s amazing.
- There is one amazing cocktail bar on the main road. We were there 3 nights in a row. Super tasty cocktails for verrryyyyyy nice prices.
- Reserve your cooking class one day in advance. It’s really worth the money. An amazing experience, as you also go to the local market and learn different things regarding veggies, fruits, and spices
- There is one main map of Pai which you can get at the tourism office. It shows you all possible routes around the city and the valley. We did all of them.
- When not experienced on a scooter, Pai is the place to be to try it out for the first time. Quiet roads, no hectic traffic. Just be careful when renting a bike, you choose a new one, take pictures of all existing damages and NEVER EVER give your passport.
The last day in Pai was a wet one. Apparently, the monsoon was late this year, but that day in July, it arrived. Luckily we had booked our flights from Chiang Mai to Krabi the day after (after the minibus drive down the mountains back to Chiang Mai and one night in town). We planned to go to Koh Lanta, at the west coast of the Southern Peninsula. It was a guess, as the west part is known to be more vulnerable for bad weather in the ‘rainy season’. After a 3,5h drive from Krabi airport, over land, boat, land, another boat, we finally arrived at the resort we had booked a day earlier. Relax Bay, a recommendation from a Belgian friend who visited Koh Lanta already several times. The resort is owned by a Belgian guy, who found his luck in Thailand many years ago and built this resort with 2 other partners. It’s really quiet, and totally my style. Jungle style. Wooden huts in the rainforest, meeting the sea.
We stayed for 5 days. Rented scooters again and explored the entire island. East side, and the quiter West side as well. We just cruised around, with no particular plan, and stopped at the locations we liked. At the east side, we visited remote beaches, visited the National Park at the south end of the island, where we first encountered the nasty monkeys. At the west side of the Island, we visited Gipsy town and some other real small and basic fisherman villages, and we also stumbled across the mangroves, where we took a boat tour. Worth Every Penny. Ruben was even allowed to be the captain of the boat, and we had an exciting monkey visit also!
Some tips on Koh Lanta:
- Beware for the current in the ocean. It’s rain season in July, and you really noticed the strong current.
- We were a little bit disappointed because the ocean didn’t have this crystal blue color with pretty boats, as you see on all the postcards. But again. Rainseason. Heavy winds and rain are the cause of this. You’ll also notice a lot of garbage on the beaches, that’s what the ocean brings back to the land…
- Beware of nasty monkeys. They steel everything. They know how to zip open backpacks, they steel your shoes. When you buy an ice-cream, they jump out of the trees to try and steel it from you. I had to give them a kick because of that… you really have to secure everything
- The National Park has some nice views, but the ‘scenic walkway’ you can take is totally overgrown and not maintained at all. Which is a pity.
- The mangroves tour is really amazing. We bargained a nice price, but in the end gave our captain a nice tip cause it was such an amazing experience.
- Island = Fresh Fish. In the main town of Koh Lanta (the first town getting of the ferry) you have a few very good sea food restaurants. All next to each other. You can choose the fish and seafood at the entrance, and you just pay per kilo. We went there twice, tried out two different places. I remember one place called “Jack Sparrow”, or something to do with Pirats of the Carrabean, that was the good one!
Our last day in Koh Lanta was depressing. Rain and storm all day long, so we had to leave. Because of the bad forecast at this side of Thailand, we decided we would go to the eastern islands, in the Golf of Thailand. We picked Koh Samui, cause that’s a fairly big island, and our time was limited. To go from Koh Lanta to Koh Samui took us one day, 8hours of travel. Pickup by minibus at the hotel, ferry, bus to Krabi, wait for other travellers, another bus from Krabi to the another port, then a boat directly to Koh Samui… We were glad we arrived at the other side of the country in late afternoon.
Because it was our last location, we booked a nice resort close to the beach, with a bigass swimming pool. Amber loved the idea. We booked CocoPalm Beach Resort at Maenam Beach, this is a location which is not too busy (cause obviously we don’t like the big crowds). It turned to be a nice and clean beach resort. Not particularly my number one choice, because of lots of families with their typical ‘I am a rich tourist attitude’, but it was nice for the last couple of days.
Of course we rented scooters again, and explored a fairly good part of the Island. We went up hiking to waterfalls, where, once in the water, we soon discovered we were surrounded by hundred of these small fish who eat your dead skin. So funny, and totally free! We drove up to the hills, where we had an amazing view in the infinity pool of Paradise Park Farm. This a farm where they keep several animals like parrots, reptiles and other small birds (which I don’t like at all, but unfortunately we didn’t know in advance). They are well kept though, and the view up there is amazing. Not to mention the beautiful infinity pool, I think we stayed at least 2 hours in the water…
At our last evening we had the chance to go fishing with a local, in his 100y old boat… We had the time of our lives, bumped into some rocks in shallow waters, laughed our lungs out, and had a fishing challenge, which resulted in the following score: Amber: 14, Leentje: 11 and Ruben, haha, 1. We arrived back at the beach, and had the fish barbecued, followed by our most beautiful night in Koh Samui, involving bonfires, a lot of cocktails, some games of pool and luck balloons. It was a night to remember.
Some Koh Samui tips:
- The island is quite crowded with German and English tourists. Koh Samui tourism industry plays that game and offers a lot of (again) ‘Safari tours, Elephant tours, Tiger tours, Snake tours’… You name it, they have it. We drove by one of this disgusting places where elephants need to ride stupid tourist around for entire days. Chained. Constantly mistreated with metal sticks… It made me feel sick. Please don’t do this.
- We found the best massage spot of the Island. An advice is to be ‘careful’ with ‘massage salons’. They offer you ‘Thai Massage’ on every street corner in the touristic places. Instead, find a quite place where you are welcomed honestly and where you can see the certificates of the employers. They are usually shown in the welcome hall. We came here 3 times, and yes, Thai Massage should hurt!
- At Maenam beach, at the west end of the beach, there is this tiny wooden cocktail bar, right on the beach. They serve the best cocktails, and they are natural entertainers. This place has a real hippy vibe. Thanks to these guys, we were able to go on this fishing trip our last days.
As this must have been fate, our last day at Koh Samui was again a rainy one. Time to go home, it seemed. We flew back to Bangkok, stayed one short night, and the next morning, we had to fly back to Belgium.
Let’s finish this travel report with some general Thailand tips & tricks:
- When visiting Thailand, there is one amazing site I’ll recommend everyone who is Dutch speaking. The amount of useful tips are priceless: http://tipsthailand.nl
- We didn’t book one single hotel or plane in advance, only our first nights in Bangkok. Is this doable? Yes. There is wifi everywhere and we booked all our hotels at booking.com. In low (rain season) this isn’t a problem at all
- In rain season, check the weather. Be flexible. We had to run away from bad weather several times
- Booking plane tickets last minute is NOT cheap. That was a big mistake in our budget. At least try to book your planes a few weeks or days in advance…, it will save you a lot of money
- When riding a scooter, always wear a helmet! It’s mandatory, but you’ll see almost NO Thai people do it. Also lesser tourists do it, which often results in painful crashes and accidents. We heard several stories, even our Thai Cook shared her motorbike accident experience.
- Not to mention the sun, even in rain season, is a killer. Ruben got seriously sunburned, even when only exposed for 30 minutes in what seams ‘a cloudy day’.
- Also not to mention: mosquitos. All day. Everywhere. Extremely itchy. Use deet, and when available, the mosquito nets. Don’t be scared of geckos though. They are everywhere also. Even in your room sometimes. They don’t bother anyone.
- Dogs. Everywhere. Generally not interested and very kind. Full of ticks though. Be careful when riding a scooter, they are just laying on the roads from time to time.
- Bargaining. Always. You really MUST do it. You can bargain on almost everything. Also on some tourist attractions, and on the rent of scooters…
- You say New York is shopping paradise? Then you clearly didn’t visit Bangkok yet. The biggest and fanciest shopping malls we ever saw…
- Rich and poor are very close to each other. Everywhere.
- Sleeping and eating is generally very cheap. Beer is more or less the same price as here, wine is super expensive.
- Be prepared that in rainy season (low season), some things are closed, or in maintenance, or… just… no interest… 🙂
It was an amazing holiday. I’d recommend it to everyone who wants to travel easily. Cause that’s what it is. Easy. Good transport, good communication. Very good choice if you want to travel in Asia for the first time, with kids. That’s why we chose Thailand, as first Asian travel for Amber.
Though, never forget this country lives of tourism. There is no place where you will be the only tourist… Or you have to visit the remote eastern parts of the country…
*** Technical note. All above pictures are taken with a Fujifilm XT1. I forgot the manual at our first plane, so had to practice with trial and error. I all shot them in JPEG, not RAW, cause I feared I wouldn’t have enough SD cards with me (stupid me). Afterwards, I kinda regret the fact that I shot them all in JPEG, cause I feel I couldn’t edit them all as I wanted, cause you lose a lot of information when you shoot in JPEG… I’m quite happy with the results though, it’s a small light camera, which is perfect for a trip like this. I keep this camera as my travel and daily-life camera.
Lots of love, and keep on traveling!