Treading the treacherous tightrope of Thailand
When you gather your ideas and bags, both equally as rugged and tenuous, for your impending trip to Thailand, you will probably be sat down by your parents as they attempt to give you an out-dated lowdown on the do’s and don’ts of the Eastern Utopia that they visited all those decades ago. “The beaches are like paradise – clear blue waters and unmanned sands for miles!”, they will bellow – “The street food is tantalising – you can survive for weeks on less than £100!”. This is the rhetoric that is chucked around inter-generationally between domestic mouths, and was enough of a unique-selling-point for me to press ‘Confirm’ on SkyScanner.
Our plane landed at Bangkok Suvarnabhumi airport, and after leaving the hectic air-conditioned safe-space, we were punched in the face by a fist of humidity – something that takes a long time to get used to. We paid for an overpriced taxi into the city centre, where our hostel waited, and the views from the window were fairly overwhelming: an amalgamation of corporate structures and pseudo-religious statues rose high into the skies, creating a faintly faithful Silicon Valley aesthetic. Our hostel, Back Home Backpackers, was a fantastic place to start the trip – the staff and setup there has a great family feel to it, and I recommend anyone going to Bangkok to stay there.
Venturing into the city, equipped with a screenshot of the ‘Top 10 Things to Do in Bangkok” in our pockets, we visited the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. Much like Ronseal, this attraction does exactly what it says on the tin; lying on his side waiting for us was a 40ft golden Buddha, enclosed tightly in a temple building. It is a spectacular sight, and will be the first of many temples that you will encounter in Thailand.
Later that day we visited the infamous Khao San Road – we’d heard fables about this street – almost as if it didn’t actually exist – “my cousins girlfriend’s dog’s dog got eaten there”. The road is about half a mile long, laden with fluorescent lights and that thumping, monotonous Naughties house music that you’d hear at a student night in Bangor. There is food everywhere, clothes and souvenir stalls as far as you can see and men dripping with Brylcreem coming up to you trying to flog you suits. It is so crowded all of the time, and every two metres you will be heavily pressured by a salesman of sorts. For me, it is what i imagine the road to purgatory to be like – a place I never want to walk down again, and somewhere I would not recommend going to other than for a brief gaze or marvel.
There will be, of course, hidden secrets in Bangkok that make it a better place, but as part of a fleeting trip, it is a place I would skip out. At a brief glance, it is a concrete jungle with heaps of traffic and pollution, on the brink of complete Westernisation. I felt like a target market there rather than a visitor.
Back Home Backpackers:
After our few days in Bangkok, we flew to the Western island of Phuket – we had been told that this was one of the least appealing islands, but it is a necessary stopping point if you wish to explore the islands below it. We stayed in Phuket for one night, and spent most of it rotting in a cool Reggae bar singing karaoke and playing the same card game over and over again. I cannot give a rounded account of this island due to the little time we spent there.
Ko Phi Phi
We got the ferry boat from Phuket to Phi Phi, and the journey was gorgeous – coming into the island, the landscape offered towering limestone rocks, crystal clear waters and white sands. We stayed at Blanco’s City Hostel, which seemed to be one of the most popular places to stay on the island. They have a hostel on the beach-front too, if you’re a good sleeper. The mystique and aura of the island is heavily characterised by the fact that it has no roads and thus no cars – you can walk through it in a matter of minutes, and it has a much more relaxing vibe than an in land city. The overall personality of the island, however, is very party-centric; almost akin to a Magaluf or Zante main strip. At night, the beach morphs into a fire-breathing, shot-sinking party-haven, which is enjoyable for a short while, but soon becomes tiresome.
The highlight of this island was the boat party that we went on with Blanco’s hostel – for a relatively small amount of money (maybe around £40), we were given unlimited free drinks for a whole day, a DJ and a tour of Monkey Beach, Maya Bay (where The Beach was filmed) and Viking Cave. It was a great balance between party and culture.
Blanco’s City Hostel:
After our heavy few days on Phi Phi, we got another boat down to Koh Lanta – recommended to us by friends and travellers that we’d met, this was an island that we hadn’t spoken about and a place that gets a lot less publicity than some of the others. Blanco’s Hostel have a branch on this island too, and we’d been told the setup here was insane. When we got off the boat, we were picked up by Blanco’s staff and driven to the hostel, which was indeed breath taking. It has a big bar and restaurant as you arrive, and its rooms are setup in small blocks that surround a central area with hammocks, a firepit and a public massage parlour. It was really satisfying watching our 6”4 friend Matt get massaged (beaten) by a masseuse twice his width to the soundtrack of Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing”.
The staff here is brilliant, and offers a group barbecue and other themed meals, creating a family vibe. They also sell lots of local vegetables and greenery behind the bar if you ask for it – we had so much that they ran out one day!!!
You can rent a scooter here for £5 per 24 hours, which is essential if you want to get a good look at the island. Matt and I set off early on a bike trip through the island, and it was one of the best days of my life – the traffic is next to nothing, and the scenery as you drive is beyond beautiful. There are plenty of jaw-dropping viewpoint restaurants and bars to stop off at for a drink or some food, and a national park to explore. We took an off-road detour which led us into a small forest in between the West and East coast of the island, and we encountered some wild monkeys – probably would have stopped for a chit-chat if it weren’t for the fear of rabies.
There is also a dog’s rescue home on Koh Lanta, where a number of international staff help rehabilitate and raise injured and mistreated animals on the island. You can adopt these dogs if you’ve got room in your rucksack.
Blanco’s Hostel Koh Lanta:
After finally deciding to stop extending our stay on Koh Lanta, we ventured to our final Western island, Krabi. Anywhere we went after the previous place would be underwhelming, however Krabi still had lots to offer. We visited Rayley and Krabi beach, which had monkeys, kayak hire and nice food. There are also lots of good inland restaurants and karaoke bars (which will become your go-to institution when there isn’t much else going on).
Krabi is nice, and is a necessary place to go to due to its airport – you can enjoy a nice southward trip down the islands and fly back inland from Krabi.
Pak Up Hostel:
We then flew to Chiang Mai, which is like a minute, slightly cooler version of Bangkok. It has a decent nightlife scene, and a few fantastic must-see attractions. We went to an Elephant Sanctuary on our first day, and it was genuinely such a mystical, rewarding and even existential experience. We fed, bathed, played with and made medicine for these elephants, who are well-looked-after by locals. Seeing elephants look so happy in such an open and free space emphasises how important it is to choose the right place to go to if you want to experience this animal – if they are ridden and/or caged in confined spaces, don’t go. Paying to see elephants in these environments simply pumps money into a cruel and toxic industry which should not exist.
We also went to the Grand Canyon water park – a huge, Total Wipeout-esque assault course which was hilarious. Be careful here, however – health and safety is definitely secondary to consumerist appeal: there is a 10 metre diving platform made out of cracked glass which you can fling yourself off – not before signing a two-page long contract in size 8 Thai writing – most certainly a death warrant.
The rather fucking large downside to my visit to Chiang Mai was when my passport was stolen from my dorm in Thunderbird Hostel. It could have been either the one other traveller in our room or the cleaners – and in the instance that it was the latter, I would avoid this hostel.
When you lose your passport in Thailand, you have to go to the British embassy in Bangkok to sort out an emergency passport – this document is a ‘route home’, but you are allowed to pass through five countries to get there. This means that you can still travel with the emergency passport, but you have to state and stick to a return date. At each border, I was quizzed in interrogation rooms and mocked in foreign languages by immigration police – the Laos embassy in Thailand even tried to deport me when I asked for a VISA to enter their country. Keep your fucking passport on you!
After mulling over whether to fly back to Bangkok straight away or bike up to the northern tranquil retreat of Pai for a few days to cool off, I chose the latter. We rented scooters in Chiang Mai from a company called AYA, and drove them 4 hours north to their sister company in Pai.
We stayed in Common Grounds Hostel, which had a great vibe, but completely closes at 9pm which is a major downside. We went tubing down the river, which was hilarious, as you can bring heaps of tinnies to sink along the way.
Pai is notorious for its magic mushroom shakes, and we thought it’d be rude not to test them – we weren’t eating enough vegetables anyway. Paradise Hostel and Sunset Hostel are the two places that sell them, and they are pretty strong. We drank one in the evening as it got dark, before heading back into the town to eat in a restaurant and watch the Arsenal game. Watching an Arsenal game is troublesome enough anyway, but when you think you’re seeing Thierry Henry scoring a top-bins screamer in a Europa League match in 2018, you know its time to leave. If you’re going to do these, do it in the day time and in a relaxing place without distressing things on TV.
Pai is a lovely place to spend a week in; somewhere to cool off from the polluted heat and bustle of the cities below it.
After the life of Pai came to a close, I flew back to Bangkok to sort my passport out, and thus the curtains closed on the Thai-leg of our Asian adventure.
Common Grounds hostel:
Author: Will McCartney.
21 year old Economics & Philosophy graduate, recently returned from 8 months renovating and running a hostel boat on the murky waters of the Amsterdam canals, seeking employment in the creative industry.
Travel site that inspires me: https://www.danflyingsolo.com/