I’ve previously taken holidays in November, in many ways it’s a great time of year to take a holiday, just before the festive season gets into full swing, and before the worst of winter sets in. It’s been a while since I took a winter holiday though, and I was excited to get back to it. I was even more excited about being able to get to Thailand from Cardiff airport. Less than an hour between me leaving the house, to being sat in the airport lounge with a glass of vino – ideal.
Qatar Airways fly 3-4 times a week from Cardiff via Doha, and to say the plane wasn’t full would be an understatement – I had 3 seats to myself! I would definitely encourage anyone in south Wales or the south west of England to use this route if you’re thinking of heading to Asia, Australia or New Zealand, it is no more expensive than flying from London, particularly when you factor in the cost of getting to Heathrow, and especially on the way back, being home just over an hour after landing is almost priceless. Anyway, after that pitch for Qatar Airways (I am not affiliated with them in any way…), onto Thailand…
I had been warned that immigration in Bangkok could be a long experience, but I must have landed at a fortunate time as there was a very short queue. British citizens don’t need a visa for trips up to 30 days, you just need to keep hold of your stamped departure card until you leave. After picking up my rucksack (gotta live the backpacker lifestyle in Thailand), I then had a transfer to the hotel. It was about an hour in some pretty heavy traffic.
I travelled with a company I haven’t been with before, Intro Travel, always good to try a new company. You can see the trip itinerary here.
We were staying in a hotel one street away from the famous backpacker mecca of Khao San Road. The plus side of this was that it was very close to the hubbub of this part of Bangkok, and the nightlife, the downside was trying to sleep over the noise coming from outside!
I arrived mid afternoon, and after a brief snooze, we met up as a group in the evening and went for dinner before going to a sky bar on the 84th floor of Baiyoke Sky Tower. I love getting up high in a new city, especially at night
The next day was a late start (10am!), we had breakfast, and then headed out on a bit of a city tour. The first stop was Wat Chana Songkhram, a temple (Wat means temple), where we received a Buddhist blessing, and then individually we offered a prayer along with incense and a lotus flower, which is an important symbol in Buddhism.
We walked through the streets and then had a short river cruise. I had no idea that Bangkok had so many rivers and canals in it. After that we headed to a market for some coconut ice cream before heading to Wat Pho, one of the largest temples in Bangkok and home to an enormous reclining Buddha
as well as numerous smaller Buddhas
We then had a tuk tuk ride back to the hotel for a little down-time before our big night out on Khao San Road. First up we went for dinner at Bombay Blues, an Indian restaurant (when in Rome…), where we started the drinking with enormous sharing cocktails and jelly shots, before heading to a bucket bar on Khao San Road for buckets of alcohol and some critters as snacks (the second time this year I’ve eaten fried critters on holiday, they have got no better since Mexico!)
I retired at midnight and left the others to it. The next morning we had a cooking class, for which I was very glad I didn’t have a hangover. We made Tom Yam soup, Pad Thai and Massaman curry, all delicious:
We then had a free afternoon before we were getting the overnight train south to Surat Thani. The train journey was about 14 hours, we were sleeping in bunks (which had been converted from seats) in an open carriage. Definitely comfier than the bunks on the train in Vietnam:
In Bangkok, the skies had been clear, but as we headed south it was greyer and more prone to tropical showers, still very hot though, absolutely no need for a sweater. When we got to Surat Thani the next morning, we had breakfast before hopping on the minibus inland to Khao Sok National Park. We drove for about an hour and then got on a boat across the lake for about an hour to the floating bungalows. A pretty idyllic place, the lake is man-made, but the scenery reminded me of Halong Bay in Vietnam. We spent the afternoon lounging around in big rubber rings with an adult beverage in hand, admiring the scenery and enjoying life.
The next day was a long travel day, we started off with an hour back across the lake, and then an hour in the mini bus back to Surat Thani, then an hour’s break in a mall for lunch before another hour or so to the ferry port, before a two-and-a-half hour ferry to Koh Pha-ngan, and then a 15 minute taxi ride to Sarana Bungalows, our home for the next 4 nights. It’s in a perfect location right on the beach, I could definitely get used to this view:
Koh Pha-ngan is famous for its Full Moon Parties on Haad Rin beach. Despite not being there for full moon, we still partied as though it was. We had dinner at Same Same in Haad Rin, got painted with luminous body paint before heading to a bucket bar to get pre-fuelled before eventually heading to the beach. A fun night of drinking and dancing before getting into bed at 3am
The next day I felt surprisingly well, which was a good job as I had a Thai massage at 11am. Not necessarily a relaxing experience as I was pulled into angles I didn’t know I could do! I spent the rest of the day relaxing by the pool and in a hammock – blissful. We went to Pandip Food Market in the evening, there was a large array of food to choose from – I had sushi and some Thai-style ice cream, before heading back to the bungalows for a chilled evening.
The next day we did an island tour, heading firstly to Secret Beach:
As became the norm with the weather, the day started off with blue skies before turning cloudy and showery in the afternoon. There was a downpour whilst we were at lunch, and then it was showery at Malibu Beach in the afternoon. I lounged in a hammock, sheltering under some palm trees, whilst some of the others played volleyball.
After that we headed to Apichada viewpoint, where we would have been able to see a lovely sunset if it hadn’t been quite so cloudy.
In the evening we had a barbecue and bonfire on the beach, a lush, chilled evening. The lights you can just about see in the distance are on Koh Samui:
The next day we had a Muay Thai boxing class in the morning. Hot and sweaty but very enjoyable. After a chilled afternoon we had a final dinner with those only doing the 9 day trip, including more buckets and beach-partying. A late evening was then followed by an early morning and another long travel day to Phi Phi Islands.
A 6.15am start (following a 2am finish), with a taxi to the pier, a 2+ hour ferry back to the mainland, a coach (I think 3 hours but I was asleep for most of it) across the mainland to Krabi, and then another 2 hours on a ferry to Koh Phi Phi, and a 10 minute walk (no cars on Phi Phi) to the hotel. A downpour greeted our arrival. After relaxing in the room for a bit, we then went for dinner, and went to see a fire show, somewhat similar to those I’ve seen in Fiji and Rarotonga.
The next morning we met at 8am to walk up to the viewpoint on Phi Phi, it was a sticky walk as it was very humid, but the view was well worth the effort:
All the main hotels, restaurants, cafes and bars on Phi Phi Don are on the isthmus you can see in the photo, and from this angle you can imagine the devastation which was caused by the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami. The isthmus is so low-lying and would be easily washed away by a tsunami. Thankfully it has been rebuilt, but as the island is so heavily dependent on tourism, this brings new issues. Everything has to be shipped on and off the island, including all food, drinks, consumables and waste. It certainly eye-opening and made me think about the environmental impact of tourism on these idyllic islands.
In the afternoon we had a boat trip to some of the other islands, including Ko Phi Phi Lee, which is where Viking Bay and Maya Bay are located. You might know Maya Bay from the film The Beach. As a consequence of over tourism following the popularity of that film, Maya Beach remains closed to tourists. You can see it from the water but can’t get close or land on the beach, the red flags signal it’s closed, and later on there was a security boat patrolling the bay.
It was also raining again. We all got in the water for a swim – lovely and warm, like having a warm bath – before having dinner on board. After dinner, once it had got dark, we all got back into the water to see bioluminescent plankton which reside in these waters. I’ve seen this phenomenon once before in New Zealand whilst kayaking, but this time I could see it up close. It’s pretty cool to see the water lighting up beside you.
The next day, after a free morning, we went on another boat trip, this time around the main island of Phi Phi Don. We went to Phi Phi Village, Nui Bay and Monkey Bay. The monkeys were cute, but be sure to keep back as they will bite!
That evening was our last night on the trip, we went for a final group dinner before drinking and dancing the night away in some of the local bars.
All in all, a great trip. Lots of great (and different) sites, lovely food, great people, and generally good weather – I even came home with a bit of a tan!