THAILAND – backpacking from Bangkok to the south-west coast in 2 weeks

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If you have never travelled somewhere out of your comfort zone before, but you start to feel like the time has come to set off on your first journey somewhere far – Thailand is one of the best destinations you can pick! Why? It´s really easy to travel around, it´s cheaper than home (although for Asia, it´s really not all that cheap), there are good flight connections with Europe, the local food is just amazing (but you do get western fast food in many places also), it´s pretty safe, people are used to tourists and mostly speak or at least understand English. There are enough big cities, small villages, beaches, islands, jungles, mountains, party places and historical sites to choose from – you can mix it like you want.

Actually if I´m honest, I was avoiding travelling to Thailand for some years – somehow I always found other, to me more exciting places to visit. And even though I was amazed by Bangkok and had a wonderful time there on our last 5 days of travelling SE Asia in 2007 before flying out home, it still didn´t intrigue me enough to make Thailand my next holiday destination. All I knew about the country was that there was a big party scene on most of the islands, obviously lots of drunken tourists in Bangkok, people taking pics with tigers in some monastery and riding elephants somewhere in the north. And all that didn´t inspire me. But then, 3 years after my first visit to Bangkok, I found my self eating the usual pad thai at Khao San Road and enjoying the hustle and bustle of Bangkok again. The winter in Europe was coming to an end and we felt like some sun and had 2 weeks time. Plane tickets to Bangkok were cheap, so the decision was made. Thailand. Suddenly I couldn´t avoid it anymore.

Who: 2 friends

When: March/April 2010

Visited: Bangkok, Surat Thani, Krabi, Ao Nang, Railay, Ko Phi Phi Don, Ko Phi Phi Le, Phuket, Patong

How: backpacking

Stayed in: small hotels

USEFUL INFORMATION

DRIVING & TRANSPORTATION

After a couple of days in Bangkok we took the train to Surat Thani and then a bus to Krabi. Later on we stayed in Ao Nang at the coast and moved to the relaxed Railay peninsula close by. From here we took a boat ride to Ko Phi Phi island. We stayed here a few days, relaxing on the beaches and enjoying the food. Eventually our departure flight was coming closer and closer, so we decided we don´t want to go back to Bangkok the same way and ended up taking another boat to Phuket Town. We stayed there just 2 days and explored the area a bit, also visited the famous Patong beach, before taking a domestic flight to BKK and flying back home later on that day.

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If you are landing in BKK airport, the easiest way to come into town is by bus – it has many stops in the town so that you can get off close to your hotel. Once in the city, you will most probably take many rides with a tuk-tuk – expect racetrack feeling as they are sometimes driving really fast! Train travel seems to be the best way to discover the rest of the country, trains are comfortable and affordable and a great way to chat with locals. We took the long train drive down from Bangkok to Surat Thani. From Surat Thani we took the bus to Krabi and for shorter distances we used tuk-tuks – don´t forget to negotiate for the price! If you visit south Thailand you will most certainly at one point jump into a long-tail boat or a ferry. Make sure that you get your ferry tickets to and from the islands a few days in advance if possible, because they can get quickly sold out. Our flight to Europe was out of Bangkok, so to save some time we booked a domestic flight just a few days before the departure, from Phuket to Bangkok and got a good price for it.

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ACCOMMODATION

It´s pretty easy to get rooms in guesthouses and hotels if you just show up with no reservation. We booked our hotel in Bangkok for the first few days, because we were flying in late in the evening and didn´t want to bother searching for one. We did not have an exact travel plan of where we even want to go, so we mostly searched for rooms once we were already there. Though, if you are travelling in the time of a festival or local school holidays or in the highest season and you are going to a very popular place – maybe it´s not stupid to consider booking the hotel a few days in advance. There are enough internet cafes to do that in case you can´t do it over the phone. We stayed in guesthouses and small bungalows, a few times in smaller hotels, some had also a small pool – for the best ones we stayed at we paid 50 € per night for a doubles room with breakfast, but there were also many cheaper ones.

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FOOD

One of Asia´s most excellent cuisines, available on every corner – cheap, quick and absolutely delicious. We gained weight. We ate on the street most of the time and I never really had problems – just go where the most local people are and you´ll be fine. You will find interesting little street snacks everywhere you go, but some of those are really just for the brave ones.

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I´m really not a fruit person, but once you are there, it´s so tempting it´s hard to resist it. And all the fish and spices and noodles and peanuts and lemon grass and banana pancakes and currys and and and. There are many cooking classes also, if you feel like learning more. For a change, switch to Indian here and there! There are also many western orientated restaurants, in case you don´t feel like experimenting. A special post about Thai food is coming up soon!

BANGKOK


I did my best, but it´s simply impossible to put all the impressions of Bangkok into just one collage picture. There are just soooo many things you can see & do in Bangkok that I believe it deserve it´s own post (coming soon). The first time I visited it was at the end of our longer SE Asia trip and we did not have any clue what Bangkok was all about. It was the place we flew into and flew out of but at the end we decided we wanted to spend a few days there, spend the last money we had with, eat as much delicious food we could possibly stuff in our stomachs and buy so many things that our backpack were completely full and were on the verge of exploding. Bangkok turned out to be a perfect place to do all that ;). We were even lucky enough to visit the city just at the time when the King had its birthday, so there were all kinds of festivities going on.

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Visiting Bangkok at this “South Thailand trip” was a bit different, especially because of the unexpected protests that were going on in those days. It did feel kind of funny, because we saw it on the news in Europe, but once we were there, it wasn´t a big deal at all. Some roads were closed, but the protests seemed peaceful, although we were advised from our hotel staff not to wander around too much, we didn´t feel like hanging out in the hotel all the time. To us it looked more like a music festival, with much food everywhere. The only “suspicious” thing were many security men, equipped with weapons, but we acted like they were not there ;).

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AO NANG


Finally, at the beach! Funny thing was, every day at exactly 3PM the rain came. So, by the time we finished our “breakfast” (okay, sometimes it could have been an early lunch already) and got to the beach, it was almost time to leave because it was about to rain. We found a nice beach in Ao Nang though, it was in front of a very expensive looking resort, but it seemed to be public. One had to climb some stairs to get to it, but it was worth it. The public beach in Ao Nang was packed with tourists and this one was quieter.

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I often feel like these long beaches are more suitable for long walks and observing people, than for actually swimming in the sea.

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The main street in Ao Nang is very busy in the day as well as in the evening – you can buy pretty much everything in the small shops and eat in all kinds of restaurants. It was nice but we moved on to Railay in search of more peace! About 20 minutes with a long-tail boat and we were there ;).

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RAILAY


The small peninsula is only accessible by boat, although it´s a part of the mainland, but there are no roads. The easiest way to get there is from Ao Nang, like we have also done it. Railay has two main areas, the east beach and the west beach. You can walk everywhere around and discover the other beaches and caves in between. There are less tourists, but no worries – you are far away from feeling like you are in the middle of nowhere. The beach on the west side is “nicer”, but we decided to stay at the east side despite that fact.

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The surrounding small islands – many locals with boats will be more than happy to take you to one of those!

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The east and west parts are connected with a walking street, where also all the shops are. Sometimes it´s rewarding to look up also, the tropical vegetation is amazing.

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“Our” side of the peninsula. Doesn´t look as nice, but there were a few cosy bars and a peaceful pool at our bungalows.

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The beach in the south-west of the peninsula is well worth the walk. There are also some caves on the way and you can refresh yourself with a fresh fruit shake, directly from a boat. Even if you skip swimming, the views on the limestone rocks will make up for it.

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Bye bye Railay – we were off to Ko Phi Phi – this time with a bigger boat. The last views on the bay before we closed our eyes on the deck and enjoyed the sun and the wind. If there were not for the motor sounds and the loud drunken Swedes it would have been too perfect ;).

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KO PHI PHI DON


Probably one of the most known Thailand´s islands – and we could see why. Together with its smaller neighbour, Ko Phi Phi Leh these islands offer beautiful beaches and tropical nature. Although there are many many many tourists and hotels, guesthouses, bars and restaurants, one can still find secluded beaches and quiet places.

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The sunsets here were really amazing, one of the best. Watching the sun go down and the colours in the sky change minute after minute, while drinking a cold beer before going for a delicious dinner. Not bad at all!

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One day we let a local fisherman bring us to another beach, he promised us, there will be no people – and surprisingly, this was almost the case. Except for the two Scandinavians who had the same plan as we did, there was nobody. The guy left and promised to come back for us and so, we trusted him. The chances were good as we haven´t paid him yet ;). We threw our towels under one of the three palm trees at the beach and enjoyed the silence and the clear water.

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Internet wasn´t very helpful with locating this beach today – it kind of feels strange right now, not knowing where we even were, but back then this was obviously not so important :).

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The sun was getting stronger and stronger so we decided to explore the area behind the beach a bit – we could still see some consequences of the tsunami in 2004. Unfortunately not only that, but also huge piles of trash, “hidden” between the palm trees.

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Back on the beach close to our guesthouse, another day ended and another sunset coloured the sky. And we had some beers again 😉

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KOH PHI PHI LEH


Finally we also visited the small island we´ve been watching across the bay a few evenings in a row while watching sunsets, Ko Phi Phi Leh (or Ley or Lee). The island is mostly known today, because it was used as a set for the Leonardo di Caprio´s Beach movie.

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There are no hotels on the island, just a few tents and hammocks. The water colour in the bays is stunning and it really does look like in the photos. The only thing what was a bit disturbing were MANY speed boats in the bay – if I´m not mistaken there are people coming here on day trips from Phuket.

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The island is surrounded by two shallow sandy bays, Maya Bay and Loh Samah. To get to the beautiful Maya Bay one has to walk through a small part of rocks.

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PHUKET TOWN


The town itself is really nothing special – it has a bigger port, where all the boats bring the tourists from the islands to and some “not Asian looking buildings”. Most of the tourists coming in with boats continue to one of the resorts on the other places on Phuket peninsula. We chose to stay in Phuket town and made a day trip to Patong beach, just to see what the fuss was all about.

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PATONG BEACH


So, we had one day to visit this famous beach and I can tell you, one day was enough. After spending days lazing around on the more or less quiet beaches (we did our best at finding the best ones) we stepped off the bus in Patong and head to the beach. After the first 10 minutes I was already lucky that we only spent one day at a place like this. Don´t get me wrong, it´s perfect if you feel like partying, listening to the sounds of water scooters while trying to read a book at the beach, being “harassed” by local woman trying to convince you you need a massage, shopping, eating fast food and being surrounded by hundreds of tourists that want the same thing. So, if you are into that, then it´s the right place for you, if not – just avoid it 😉

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One last tuk-tuk ride and we were back in our hotel in Phuket town, packing. We took a comfortable bus to Phuket airport the next morning, flew to Bangkok and cought our flights back home.

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Many people say they have some kind of a “love-hate” relationship with India. Before going to India you will often hear / read that you will either love it or hate it. Or both. Well, I think I have that with Thailand. Somehow I don´t like it, but then again, I do. I think I have to go to the north of the country at one point also and then decide!

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