Thailand was never on my travel to do list. I guess I watched too many TV shows of nights in Bangkok and concluded that the country was boozy, trashy and not the kind of place I wanted to see. It was a good friend of mine that urged me to go, ‘There is a beautiful side to Thailand,’ she promised me. So I decided to add the destination to my trip and go and see for myself what Thailand had to offer, rather than judging it on the basis of trashy TV shows. I arrived in Bangkok in the middle of rush hour after spending the past twenty hours travelling, the longest and cheapest way around, from Nepal. I was exhausted so I jumped into a taxi, for the sake of a couple of extra baht the journey seemed worth it. I soon realised I had made a very bad decision. I was quickly swallowed into the traffic of Bangkok, the worse traffic I have ever seen, far worse than the streets of central London. Despite this, however, my first impressions of Bangkok were good. I walked down the street, with a backpack on my front and back keeping me balanced, and no one batted an eye lid. Here I was anonymous, just another backpacker in the capital of backpacker world. It was a refreshing experience. I even ventured to the dreaded Khao San Road, just to experience it for myself and see exactly how much I despised it. To my surprise it wasn’t as bad as I had imagined, I had seen far worse on the streets of my hometown in the early hours of the weekend mornings. Still, it was far too noisy and crowded for me, putting my feet up with a good book and a cup of tea is my preferred activity in an evening. From the busy, humid streets of Bangkok I headed north to Chiang Mai. Smaller than Bangkok, but still a busy city, Chiang Mai has a much more laidback vibe to it. I spent my time there learning to cook traditional Thai dishes from my new Thai auntie Wanie and swinging through the jungle on a zip line pretending to be Tarzan. It was soon time for me to leave city life, however, and head to the south and experience the beautiful side of the country my friend had promised me existed. On arrival at Phuket airport I was filled with relief when I saw that the sky had stayed blue, combining with the turquoise of the Andaman Sea. So far on my journey every time I had stepped foot near the sea a torrential downpour had occurred. It appeared I was cursed with bringing the English weather with me, however at last the curse had been lifted. I walked out of the airport excited to explore. Thailand did appear beautiful after all. However, my excitement was soon replaced with dread as I approached the streets of Patong in the minivan I was sharing with fellow passengers fresh off the runway. Dear God, I prayed, please do not let the area I am staying in be anything like this. Patong, in the daylight, was all the parts of Thailand I did not want to see, tacky, sleazy and what seemed like a million tourists walking the streets. If I had arrived in the darkness I probably would have gone straight back to the airport and headed to the next country on my list earlier than planned. Thankfully the hostel I had reserved a bed at was in a much quieter area than party palace Patong. I settled into my new island life straight away. The following morning I hopped on a speedboat and headed to the Phi Phi Islands. As the boat bounced up in the air every time it made contact with water I was sprayed with salt water, stupidly I had sat at the back, the wettest part of the boat. I scanned around looking for passengers that were dry. I found them smirking, pleased with their smart move and made a mental note of their position. We approached Maya Bay on Koh Phi Phi Leh and Miss Susan, our guide, who had warned us earlier that if we called him Mr he would absolutely push us overboard, announced that we would have thirty minutes to look around the area. Maya Bay is where the handsome Leonardo DiCaprio frolicked around getting high and paranoid on the film, The Beach. I have seen the film and the beach on the film was not the beach that I was standing on. Covering every inch of white sand were people in their bright swimwear and their selfie sticks. The invasion of tourists had stripped the beauty of this natural area away, leaving it unrecognisable. Disappointed I hopped back onto Miss Susan’s boat and headed to the bigger island, Koh Phi Phi Don. It was the same as every beach I had seen so far, filled with long tail boats and people. I returned to Phuket and then headed to Krabi, still in search of my paradise island experience.
You know you have arrived in Krabi when the craggy karst mountains start appearing on the horizon. Being surrounded by mountains always makes me feel at home so I took an instant liking to the area. I was staying in Ao Nang, the tourist centre of the area, however my time in Krabi coincided with New Year’s Eve and that’s the one night of the year that I put down the tea and go out into the moonlit streets, so I wanted to be somewhere there was life. From Ao Nang I was able to get a long tail boat over to Railay beach, a place famous for its rock climbing. Now I am the ‘when in Rome…’ kind of girl so if people go to Railay to rock climb then in Railay that is what I shall do. I managed to pull myself up the cliff face of the smaller rocks, in awe at the people that appeared like very tiny mountain goats clinging, somehow, to the flat rock surface high above me. Ok, so I am never going to be a rock climber, but I had fun trying, it was a great adventure to finish off a fantastic year and the instructor looked like the Thai version of Jon Snow so the view wasn’t too bad, either. Railay has a great vibe. You can walk from one beach to the other in a matter of minutes, there are no cars in the area, but plenty of reggae bars. It was busy with tourists however it was definitely more the Thailand I had imagined so I promised myself that on my next visit to the country I will sleep on the beach and stay longer than one day. I ended the last day of 2015 relaxing on the beach with a fresh coconut, listening to the legend that is Mr Marley, singing to myself, whilst watching people cool off in the sea. It was a pure, blissful afternoon of living in the present, something I was learning to do very well throughout my travels. Being present and soaking up every last drop of every moment. After an evening of fireworks, and promises for the year ahead made with new friends, I spent the first day of this year doing what I was pretty much doing every day in the south, island hopping. We sailed from beautiful island to beautiful island, through the different shades of blue and as I stood in the crystal clear sea around the tiny island named Tup, I scanned the view around me and felt overwhelmed with joy that I was starting my year in such an incredible natural landscape, minus the tourists of course.
It was soon time for me to leave Krabi and her islands and head further south, to Koh Lanta. I had read that the island of Lanta was quieter and I was looking forward to actually doing some relaxing, so far I had only managed to lay on a beach for approximately thirty minutes. On Lanta I was determined to be still for a while. Saladan, the pier town on Koh Lanta, is a quirky little area and even here, in the main town on the island, the difference was immediately apparent. The crowds were no more, travellers were scattered in a way that meant they didn’t take over the landscape. Driving through the island to the beach area I was staying in I looked around and knew that I had chosen the right island to come and stay a while and learn to dive. The only car on the road was the one I was travelling in and when I went to check out the beach my vision was of an endless expanse of sand with very few people lying on it. It was perfect. I don’t know what possessed me to think that learning to dive would be relaxing, it wasn’t. It was an intense four days of study and nerves, details can be found on my previous post, but let’s just say that I was exhausted every late afternoon and skipped the beach in favour of a bed and air conditioning. On my last day on the island I visited the local animal shelter to volunteer as a dog walker. Damm, a floppy eared, gentle, black beauty, and I were enjoying a nice leisurely stroll down to the river when something struck at us from the bush and then slithered away, back into its hiding place. Damm was not injured, luckily, but I knew then who the snake skin in the middle of the road that we had passed earlier on had belonged to. I said goodbye to the animals of Lanta and set off on the journey to my final island, Koh Lipe. Ten hours and four boats later I stepped foot on the whitest sand I had seen in Thailand thus far, just as the sky was turning blood red orange. As I floated in the clearest water I had ever seen, anywhere, I looked up at the sky and, infused with gratitude, thought to myself, if this was to all end tomorrow, and I had to return to England, homeless, penniless and jobless, then it was all worth it, all the years of saving money and missing out on spending time with friends and family. It was all worth it, just for the past three months, just for this moment.
And Koh Lipe wasn’t about to let me leave Thailand without giving me one more magical experience. As I walked down the beach in the evening with the stars shining down over me the stars of the ocean burned electric blue underneath me. Tiny sparks of bio luminescent plankton surrounded me as it was washed ashore. Most of the islands in Thailand might be same same, but Koh Lipe is definitely different.