Thailand – 10th to 24th April 2015
After a thirty two hour delay in India, we finally made it to the ‘land of smiles’, Thailand!
Greeted by the Bangkok airport staff with a welcoming “Sawàt dii khâ”, it was exciting to be in a new country and on familiar territory. I previously traveled around the south easterly islands of Thailand four years ago.
I island hopped through Koh Phangan, Koh Tao and Koh Samui for close to three weeks, with three of my best friends. I couldn’t want for much more at that particular point in my life. I was looking forward to a very different experience this time around though. As much as I enjoyed the first round, I don’t think my ageing liver could withstand the abuse again.
Our journey wasn’t over in Bangkok though, so after a taxi, a tut tut, an overnight bus, another bus, another taxi and a two hour boat ride, we finally arrived in the picture perfect, south west island of Koh Phra Thong.
Koh Phra Thong, Thailand – 11th to 15 April 2015
Pronounced “Ko Pra Tong”, this secluded island lies on the Andaman sea and is situated a stones throw from the spectacular Surin Islands. This relatively untouched island hosts a handful of small, eco style accommodations, with no internet, and electricity only being made available at certain times during the day.
Our accommodation host, Mr Chuoi, a sort of Thai version of Jack Sparrow from The Pirates of of the Caribbean, led us to our simple but inviting beach hut. We had finally arrived in paradise!
During the devastating onslaught of the tsunami of 2004, Mr Chuoi scrambled his way up a coconut tree and held on tight as the powerful wave washed over the island. He somehow survived to tell his story. Maybe that was the reason why he seemed so happy all of the time or maybe it was down to the fact that he always seemed to have a drink in his hand.
We stumbled across this majestic memorial to the tsunami victims of the island, it sat up upon one of the hill tops looking out across the sea. I wondered if some of the survivors used this hill as a safe point to escape the oncoming onslaught. I couldn’t fathom the idea or comprehend what actually happened here as it seemed so peaceful and safe at that particular moment in time.
We spent our days on the island relaxing, eating and trying various activities. We booked a scuba diving package with ‘Blue Guru Diving’ and it was incredible.
If you haven’t scuba dived before, I can best describe it as how you might imagine the feeling of floating through space to be. Gliding float-lessly through the water underworld, we spotted countless fish, octopus and alien like creatures.
We kayaked out to other, smaller deserted islands where we were the only inhabitants. I pronounced my newly discovered island ‘Koh Blué’ but I’m not quite sure if I was the first adventurer there or not…
The food on the island was tantalising. Savouring the Thai favourites of pad Thai, red / green curry and chicken satay, it felt great to be back in this wonderful country. I imagined staying in Koh Phra Thong forever. I’d discover my own island, live on it like Leonardo Di Caprio from the cult classic film ‘The Beach’ but sadly without the good looks or the money. Maybe next time.
Kao Sok, Thailand – 15th to 19th April 2015
Our next stop was back on the mainland to a place called Kao Sok. Home to a prestige national park we based ourself out of ‘Nungs House’, which was only a short walk from the park entrance and offered basic and clean bungalows for a great price. As a bonus, the owners kids were football enthusiasts so I taught them a few soccer skills and tried to teach them how to handstand walk with some success.
We trekked the park for five hours climbing up and down countless steps, hills and dusty paths. We spotted lots of speedy geckos, flying lizards, slithering snakes, mischievous monkeys and a few of those funny creatures people call backpackers. They’re a strange animal to say the least.
We took a long boat through the gentle man made lake while being surrounded by towering, Ha Long Bay like, limestone monolithic structures.
We stopped for a seafood lunch on a rustic, floating bamboo village and swam in the refreshing lake to cool off.
As I’ve somehow become a keen walker now, we opted for a jungle and cave trek next. Tip toeing through the pitch black caves was like something out of a horror film with creepy, black spiders the size of my head and thousands of blood thirst bats watching our every move.
The rock features within the cave were unimaginable and as we waded through a neck high river, I thought the end was never coming. I just followed this little lady with the head torch on and somehow made it out alive!
Bangkok, Thailand – 19th to 24th April & 22nd to 29th June 2015
The first time I visited Bangkok, I didn’t love nor hate it. To be honest, I didn’t give the capital a chance to win me over. This time I was sure to delve into everything it had to offer and by spending a total of nearly two weeks here, I have grown to love the real Bangkok.
I love the food. From the traditional dishes like pad Thai, Masaman curry and chicken satay to the ever changing, latest foodie trend such as bread topped with milk, cold fried ice cream and grilled cheese sandwiches.
I love the drinks. From simple fruit smoothies and milky green tea latté’s to frozen frappé’s, draught coffee and luminous alcoholic slushies served in buckets and drank in small shot style glasses.
I love the culture. From giant reclining Buddhas in Wat Pho to the multi headed elephant housed In the Erawan museum.
I love the transport. From the clean and efficient sky train to the erratic and speedy tut tut.
I think it’s pretty obvious that I am a fan of Bangkok. It is definitely somewhere I will visit again and I am hoping to live and work here at some point in my life. Anyway, here’s a quick run down of what we actually got up to during our split visit of two weeks.
We stayed in three great hostels in Bangkok, all of which were in the Bang Rak area of Silom. If you’re stuck for ideas and want to experience the real Bangkok, away from the stereotypical and heavily touristic area of Khoa San Road, then look no further. I recommend ‘Glur Hostel’ , ‘Mile Map Hostel‘ and ‘Saphaipae’.
If I had to choose one, it would be Glur hostel. Meaning ‘friend’ in Thai, this hostel boasts pod style double beds, free 24 hour basic breakfast, a great little coffee shop and bar that serves a refreshing honey beer and some of the most helpful staff I’ve come across in Asia.
Outside Glur hostel is a great, mobile drinks van serving cheap (30 to 40 THB) coffee frappé’s , fruit smoothies and roti bread wraps. I recommend the banana and cocoa, yogurt based smoothie and the green tea latté frappé if you’re looking for ideas. If you’re short on time for breakfast or fancy a snack then guzzle down the freshly cooked chicken roti wrap to go…
If you have a little more time or you’re just looking for somewhere local and authentic to eat, then in the building directly opposite Glur hostel, you will find a food market. Meal prices are an average of 50 THB here so you’ll definitely be tempted to order that second dish, God knows I have.
We did a lot of sight seeing in Bangkok. To start our adventure, we headed out in the near unbearable heat and set sail upon the Chayo Prayo river to visit The Grand Palace. Impressive to say the least, this cluster of temples, buildings and gardens. Built in 1782 it was home to the Thai King, the Royal Court and the administration of Government.
We also stopped at the near by Wat Pho, home to the extravagant Reclining Buddha. This ginormous, smiling and relaxed Buddha is overwhelming by its shear size and gleaming golden colour.
Looking for something different and slightly away from the centre of Bangkok we traveled to the eccentric Erawan museum. A collection of Asian culture housed in a monstrous three headed elephant structure, this museum certainly had the wow factor.
On our second round of Bangkok, while on our pursuit of the weird and wonderful, we paid a visit to the Suraraj Forensic Museum. This eerie, scientific spectacle housed preserved humans and animals. They had whole human bodies concealed in special housing and a strange collection of conjoined twins which was a little too much for me. We chose not to take photos out of respect, so you’ll have to google it if you want to see some imagery.
One of my favourite escapes in Bangkok is Lumpini park. The capitals equivalent to New Yorks, Central Park, is set among the financial district and is host to lazy dwellers, active runners, pumped up body builders, other fitness enthusiasts and even the odd komodo dragon.
Fashion and shopping is everywhere in Bangkok. I have never been to a city with so many shopping malls, markets and boutiques. My personal favourites were Terminal 21 shopping mall (the London floor in particular), the warehouse style shops at Asiatique and the well known Chatuchak weekend market. If you find yourself at this market then make sure you head to ‘Viva 8’. It’s a Spanish restaurant come bar that serves fresh paella, refreshing alcohol and has DJ’s playing a mix of deep house, techno, disco and hip hop from the early morning to the late evening. What more could you want!
However, in the whole of Bangkok, the standout location for me, was Rot Fai Vintage Market. This place was like Camden market on steroids. It emphasises how cool Bangkok is.
It had everything. Pop up bars, inventive food stalls, unique and independent brands, classic British barbers, talented tattooists, an insane collection of vintage automobiles, lifesize action figurines and even puppies for sale.
If you find yourself in Bangkok and you want to visit this place, then read my article ‘How to get to Rot Fai Vintage Market, Bangkok’.
In a city where facial hair is a rarity, I even managed to get the best beard cut of my life. A chain of barbers called ‘Never Say Cutz’ is ran by a famous, Thai hip hop artist. They offer attention to detail hair and beard cuts for a great price. If you are in Bangkok and interested then check out my post ‘Where to get a Beard or Hair Cut in Bangkok’.
I even had to revisit the infamous Khao San Road. If Magaluf had a love child with an Asian city, then this is the street it would produce. A road born with the sole purpose for pure debauchery. Littered with neon lights, thumping electronic dance music (not the good kind), super drunk travellers, street sellers, con artists and more, it is an area best visited at night but only if you’re brave enough. I must admit, I did drink a bucket or two!
As a great way to say farewell to Thailand and in particular Bangkok, we left upon the special express railway train. The clean, spacious and cool train ran from Bangkok to Butterworth (Malaysia) and it gave us a chance to savour the sights of Thailand from our cabin window for one last time. I had a good feeling that this would not be the last time I saw Thailand.
“To Travel is to live”
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