In 2015, when we initially left the UK, Thailand was our first destination.
We landed in the craziness of Bangkok and immediately felt free and happy. What a place to begin. Tuk Tuk’s flying past you, hooting their horns and the drivers yelling in a language foreign to your ears. Music coming from every direction, blending into one confusing melody.
If this is also your first trip to Thailand, I’d thoroughly recommend the Thaintro experience, especially if you are travelling alone to begin with. It is a great way to meet like-minded people and see the beautiful parts of Thailand.
We are still in touch with many of the people we met on our first visit to Thailand, some of which we have gone on to meet up with in various other countries around the world.
Head over to the Intro Travel website to view their itineraries.
If that beach life is your jam, get on the train to Hua Hin. You can pick up a ticket for next to nothing from Bangkok station and you will be at the beach in under two hours. We got ourselves a sweet hostel (I’ll mention it in the accommodation section below) in the mountains. They organised scooter hire for us and we zipped around on that for days. We took ourselves off to secluded beaches, hiked up to Buddhist temples in the hills and found some amazing food markets. Our time in Hua Hin was kind of like our “holiday within a holiday”. We wanted to relax and enjoy ourselves without rushing on to the next place. We ate pretty cheaply to be honest. We ate from the local markets, found little restaurants and the hostel sometimes did homemade pizza.
If you are in Hua Hin, I’d give the “Venice of Thailand” a miss at Venezia Hua Hin. I mean it is fine, it makes a good visit but it is kind of a waste of money.
I’d definitely pay a visit to Rajabhakti Park. The park honours the past Thai kings from the Sukhothai period to the current royal house of Chakri. It is pretty impressive. Ladies, make sure you wear something below the knee and take a sarong to cover your shoulders. It is a really open place and there isn’t a lot of shade so take plenty of suncream, water and make sure you have a hat!
Don’t miss the beach at Khao Tao. Monks walk along the beach here and it is a truly peaceful place. If you go a little further, down a strange little dirt track and follow your google maps for Pak Nam Pran beach, you can also find a Buddhist temple in the hills from here. Park your bike in the alley by the beach, turn left and then walk along the coast line. You will come across a strange wooden mermaid statue and beyond this there is a pathway leading up into the hills. Follow the path and you will emerge at the temple with a huge gold statue of Buddha.
Whilst you are in Khao Tao, grab dinner at Remember café (click the link for a google map to the café). We had such a friendly welcome, a delicious meal and bonus, we got to pet some beautiful kittens!
Lastly, please check out this new café called Ninepun Café, Hua Hin. Western style coffee’s and cake in a tropical paradise. Perfect for those days that you just need a little slice of home (we all have them!).
Koh Pha Ngan
We adored the little island of Koh Pha Ngan. Intro Travel own a resort on the island and you can stay here in your own little bungalow with an infinity pool right on the beach. After a few weeks of “roughing it” in dorm rooms and on overnight trains, you will love this little break on a tropical island. It was magical for us.
Spend your days swimming in the ocean, bathing elephants, riding around in the back of a truck to explore the island and generally soaking in your surroundings.
Koh Pha Ngan is the home of the famous Thai Full Moon Parties. Don’t panic if your trip doesn’t tie in with the full moon, the island hold half moon parties and all other type of party they can think of. You won’t miss out on the buckets of various spirits and fire dancing – DON’T WORRY!
If you choose to use Thai Intro, the resort has a delicious menu for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacking. They also have a fabulous stock of cocktails for those lazy afternoons hanging around in the hammocks at the beach.
Go on, treat yourself to a visit to this superb island.
Khao Sok National Park
As we emerged sleepily off of the overnight train from Bangkok, we had no idea were we were heading. We were shuttled onto a bus, then onto a boat, half way during which, we were told we could plunge into the deep waters of the Khao Sok National Park. I have to admit this was pretty fun. I remember, every one was climbing up this little island, scrabbling up to the top of a tree and then jumping in.
I have to say I was much larger back in 2015. I had very little confidence in myself (body and mind) and then I had this profound moment, I thought to myself, “I am here right now, I have this opportunity to be whoever I want to be, transform into that person I dream of being, just do it!”. So, I did it and it was the most freeing moment of my life. We only have this one life, live it!
From here, the boat took us to the foating bungalows. We each had our own floating bungalow which was nothing more than a mattress on a wooden floor, but to us it was perfect. You open your bungalow door and all you can see ahead of you is sparkling water, limestone cliffs and palm trees. I mean, does it get any better than that?
We had our meals in a communal hut and then we had a “pool party”, alcohol was flowing around the group and there may have been a bit of skinny dipping in this private slice of paradise (shh! It’s all part of the experience!)
Get yourself out there, experience Khao Sok and all of its magnificent beauty for yourself.
Phi Phi and “the beach”
Next on the list is the Phi Phi Islands. I have mixed reviews about these islands. Upon arriving you are charged a “clean up fee”, however, after stepping foot on the island it was clear that this fee is not used to clean up the island. This was in 2015, all these years later they may have managed to clean the place up however, it was heart breaking to us to see the main island in a mess.
Make sure that you hike up to the view point at the top of Phi Phi Island. It is a pretty special view. We spent hours up there waiting for the sun to set, taking in the incredible views, feelings as though we were the only two people in the world.
The surrounding islands, from what we saw, were beautiful. They had those beautiful crystal clear waters you dream of and the golden sand from the postcards. We visited a few of the islands on a day trip. There are many trips and islands to choose from ranging from half a day, full day and up to several days.
Our highlight for the Phi Phi Islands was visiting the beach on which they filmed the Leonardo Dicaprio movie “the beach” (one of my favourites, I have to admit, don’t judge me!). The real name of this place is ‘Maya Bay’. At this time the bay was open to the public but, I believe now, in order to preserve this slice of paradise they have closed this off.
We had the absolute pleasure of doing a sleep aboard trip. We arrived in the mid afternoon, enjoyed the sunshine, some snorkeling with reef sharks and then, as all the other tours left the beach, we took kayak’s to the shore. We had the entire beach to ourselves. We built a little camp fire, the BBQ was fired up and we all dipped our toes in those magnificent waters.
When the sun had set on that fabulous day in December, after a delicious Thai BBQ, we headed back through the trees and onto the beach. Here we were treated to a lovely show of light under the water. Plankton live in these waters, they glow brightly once the sun has disappeared and the water sparkles beautifully. You may recall in the movie “The Beach” there is a romantic scene in which they show the plankton. I mean, it isn’t as magical as they make it out to be in the movie but in real life it is still an pretty amazing experience.
Well. I have to say Chiang Mai was probably th best part of our first trip to Thailand in 2015. You see, here, you can really see the traditional side of Thailand. Not too many tourists venture up to the north. It was here that we discovered getting off the beaten track really is worth it.
We met one of our closest backpacker friends (Helen) in the airport upon landing here. The airline had lost her backpack, she took it on the chin (she is amazing!) and we made sure she was okay after we got to the hostel. We also met several other people in our hostel who made our trip that little bit more special.
Before long we were all set to hike up in the mountains together, Alex, Helen, our new friends and myself. We hiked up one day, stayed overnight in a little traditional Thai mountain village and then after breakfast with the villagers the next day we headed back down. As you can imagine, this was a life changing experience and I still think about how it made me feel today.
On the way up, our guide made us bamboo cups and chop sticks to eat our rice and chicken with for lunch. This was all served in a bamboo leaf (cool right?). I won’t lie to you, it was a tough hike. I started at the back but before long I was at the front with Helen (our new friend) and we were chatting away as we walked through the tall tree’s and crossed rivers on fallen tree trunks. We were greeted by the village upon arrival and assigned our mattresses for the night. We all slept in one hut but there were curtains to give us a little privacy. We had a wonderful dinner with the people who lived in the village and our guide told us stories around the fire.
When we arose, from a rather chilly slumber, the fire was still smouldering. One of the women in the village poked the fire and I watched as the warm embers floated into the sky. She popped a cast iron kettle on top and we waiting for it to boil. We had rice for breakfast and a cup of Thai Tea. After this, we gathered our belongings and began heading down the mountain. We did not walk the same way back as we did there. Along the way we were treated to some waterfalls and the pleasure of visiting another village. Alex and I asked if it was okay to give our hiking sweets to the children. Their faces lit up with complete and utter happiness. It was a magical moment. The hike down was long and tough on the knees but we made it. The van collected us and returned us to the city.
If you like the sound of this absolutely amazing experience, I recommend it highly. It is a truly eye opening experience. My brother once told me, “people don’t want to hear about how you stayed in a 5* hotel. They want to hear about how you trekked a mountain, didn’t shower for a week and walked into a casino in clothes you’d worn for your entire trip”, or words to that effect. My brother did those exact things on his trek to Base Camp Everest during his charity expedition for the British Heart Foundation. So there you go, push outside of your comfort zone and go an experience something incredible!
Lastly, you should spend time getting your Padi diving qualification in Kao Tao. Friends of ours did this and we highly wish we had too. You can do it here for one of the cheapest prices in the world. Then, you can dive your way around the world during the rest of your trip!
Food and drink is very cheap in most parts of Thailand. I would be careful of the street food/market food, but do try some, just be smart about which stalls you go too. Hua Hin has a fabulous market called the “Cicada Market”, this is a fabulous place to get a cheap meal with a great atmosphere.
During guided hikes, your guide will often cook meals for you in bamboo leaves. Our guide in Chiang Mai even made us bamboo cups and chopsticks for our meal. We used these throughout the rest of our overnight hike in the mountains.
If you fancy trying some different foods, why not try scorpion? I ate a scorpion claw. As you can see it took a lot of guts (and alcohol) but I did it. It tasted similar to bacon to be fair to you. Try it my loves, as I’ve said before, you only live once!
The cheapest alcohol you can get is probably good ol “Chang” . It is a very refreshing beer and accompanies a Pad Thai extremely well!
Transport, trips and excursions
People will always try to sell you additions to your trip and sometimes over charge you. Shop around and get a feel for the going prices. You can always barter the price down for most things. We found the easiest way to explore Asian Countries was by moped. Hire one for around 120 Baht a day (£3.00) and a tank of fuel is as cheap as chips. Again, use common sense here, go for a shop with relatively new bikes so that you know it isn’t going to conk out on you half way down a bumpy dirt track as you attempt to get to a secluded beach an hour from the city.
In Thailand you will find most of the places you stay in will be “Guest Houses”. To be fair to you, Thailand is cheap enough that you can splash out on a double room with an en suite and still be within your accommodation budget.
The best site we found for Thailand is my trusty favourite booking.com. We occasionally used Trivago and Expedia as well. We found the hostel in Hua Hin, The Bike Loft, on booking.com and I have to say it was probably one of the best we have ever stayed in. A really lovely family run hostel. The owners would honestly do anything for you. We wanted to live there!
The most important tip I can give you is, before booking any hotel, Tripadvisor it first. It really pays to check out the reviews of other travellers. You can see photos of the property from the perspective of other guests (not just the hotels staged photos!). Tripadvisor is also really good for restaurant and tour reviews. We use it so much during our travels. It was SO HELPFUL!
So, what are you waiting for? Get planning your dream adventure to THAILAND!
Until next time,
Love Travel and Coffee.