In total we spent 27 days in Thailand, as this was our first location on our journey we learnt lots of lessons while being there and started to become accustomed to our life travelling.
We had an 11 hour flight to Bangkok and were 7 hours ahead of the UK when we landed, so we’re both very tired and jet lagged. We flew with Thai Airways which we would probably avoid in the future as the food, if you can even call it that, was pretty bad! Unfortunately, being in Bangkok doesn’t really allow for you to be jet lagged as the city is incredibly busy and full on. We wanted to make the most of our time there so for our first day we walked around the city visiting lots of temples and went to Chinatown in the evening. Both of which involved lots of walking and Chinatown, in particular was a sensory overload as there was lots of traffic on the road and the pavements were packed full of street vendors, locals and tourists. This was our first mistake, although we enjoyed everything we saw on our first day, after walking over twenty thousand steps and still suffering from jet lag we were exhausted! In hindsight we should have had a more relaxed first day to give us time to recover.
Since we are both from relatively small towns we were both a bit taken aback by the number of people there were wherever we went in Bangkok and although we’ve visited other UK and European cities this was on another scale. This being said we found the people to be very considerate and patient so we felt relatively safe even though surrounded by hundreds of people.
As expected there was a huge difference between the rich and poor in Bangkok, the city is full of very grand temples covered in gold and also had areas of huge sky scrapers and expensive hotels but between this there are lots of small buildings, some no more than a shack where it wasn’t clear if they had much sanitation.
We both enjoyed Bangkok and were glad we went, we had some great experiences there and saw lots of sides to the vibrant busy city but it isn’t somewhere we would choose to visit again.
Our Bangkok best bits:
We spent time in three different locations in Phuket and definitely preferred some parts over others. Firstly, like most of the islands we visited they were all very commercialised and catered for tourists, who were there in the thousands. Our first stop was one night in Nai Thon beach for our night of luxury, which is what the area seemed to cater for with lots of resorts dotted along the beach. The hotel we stayed in was lovely and had an infinity pool overlooking the beach, where we did briefly consider not travelling anywhere else and spending all our money staying in the luxurious setting!
We travelled by taxi which was quite expensive, much like everything else in Phuket, to Patong Beach. We travelled through some other places on our way to Patong, such as Karon beach, which once we reached Patong we wished we would have stayed at instead. We knew Patong was more of a lively party place but we weren’t quite prepared for what the area was like. Just walking down the road was a challenge with everyone trying to offer us tattoos, taxis, weed or “massages”. Once we finally made the short walk to the beach we were greeted by more people trying to sell us a day on a sunbed, which there were hundreds of, or a jet ski, it was quite far away from the picture perfect beach we had imagined.
We took a tour around Phuket and were shown a beautiful temple, the Big Buddha statue and a viewpoint over Phuket. We really enjoyed the tour and it was good to see different parts of Phuket away from the resorts.
Our final stop and by far our favourite was Phuket Town, the old town was made up of small roads with lots of independent shops and cafes. We spent both evenings there at the Phuket Indy Night Market which was quite a small market but had lots of food vendors selling delicious food, which we tried to sample as many as possible! There was also live music and a seating area where the atmosphere was so friendly and relaxed.
We chose to do a day trip around the Phi Phi islands while in Phuket Town which was quite expensive but we made the mistake of booking very last minute so we’re limited on choices. The trip was great and we had the opportunity to jump off the boat, swim and snorkel in some beautiful locations and definitely felt like a once in a lifetime experience. Again, there is a theme here, we were shocked about the hoards of tourists particularly on Maya Beach and Koh Phi Phi. Maya Beach is absolutely stunning if you look in one direction and there is a reason why people want to visit it, however, when you turn away from the beach there are hundreds of people there. To try and preserve the beach there is a time limit of how long you can spend on the island and restrictions such as no swimming, although people kept trying to push this and get in the water as much as possible before being told to get out. The tour was definitely worth it and was one of our favourite things we did in Thailand as the scenery was absolutely stunning and we felt so fortunate to be able to swim in the warm crystal clear water.
Our Phuket best bits:
We had our first experience on a ferry to get to Ao Nang, although it was a bit stressful getting to the ferry port when our transfer didn’t turn up it ended up being one of the less chaotic ferry crossings we did. Maybe not so much for the people on the ferry who were going to Railay Beach as this can only be accessed by small boats so they had to transfer from the ferry onto a speedboat in the middle of the sea!
Although Ao Nang was also very touristy it was more relaxed than Patong and the beach and scenery were much nicer. There seemed to be a lot of fusion restaurants that mainly did Indian food but also offered, Thai, European and pretty much anything else.
We travelled to Railay Beach for a day trip which can only be accessed by boat, the beach is very nice but due to the number of people wanting to visit there is constantly long-tail boats coming and going which definitely aren’t the quietest! We walked away from the main beach and found another smaller beach the other side of the area which still had amazing scenery but was quieter and not accessed by boats.
Ao Nang also had a night market which we went to on our last night there but we wished we had of gone there more, as it was bigger than the market in Phuket but still had a great atmosphere and lots of delicious food to choose from.
Our Ao Nang best bits:
We decided to add in a stop to Koh Tao as we had heard really good things about it. It was quite a long journey to get there from Ao Nang as we had a four hour bus ride to the ferry port and then an hour ferry to Koh Samui, where we decided to stay the night before getting another four hour ferry to Koh Tao. It was definitely worth it though as Koh Tao was one of the most beautiful places we visited, the sea was warm and crystal clear and the beaches were sandy and the cleanest we had seen. The island seemed to be less busy than other places we had visited, it had such a relaxed atmosphere, lots to explore and great food.
Although we had bad weather on our last day there for the snorkelling trip we had booked we still really enjoyed it and being in the warm sea while it was torrentially raining and also getting to swim with a turtle definitely isn’t a memory we will forget. On the trip we visited Nang Yuan Island where we did a short hike up to the viewpoint and snorkelled over the coral reef and saw an array of fish and sea urchins. To try and preserve the island they don’t allow any plastic water bottles to be brought onto the island and they take them off you at the entrance to collect when you leave.
Our Koh Tao best bits:
The first location we stayed at on Koh Samui was Lamai. We had read this was a romantic place for couples and had a great beach, we can’t say we found this to be the case. Unfortunately, the beach area was a bit run down and there was quite a lot of rubbish on the beach, the sea also looked quite rough and not very inviting for a swim. The small town area behind the beach had lots of bars and restaurants which seemed to be offering mainly Western food and there was an odd atmosphere that made us feel a bit uncomfortable. Fortunately, we found a very small night market where we met a really nice lady who made us non spicy versions of famous Thai food. The best part of Lamai was the viewpoint which had a really lovely quiet café at the top to relax and enjoy the view.
We took a day trip around some of the main sights on Koh Samui which gave us the opportunity to see more of the island. The tour included stops at many different sites including the Guan Yu statue (Arran’s favourite) and the Na Muang waterfall.
Our last location was Chaweng which is a party area but not quite as full on and busy as Patong. We weren’t sure if that was because we were there on a Monday night or if its usually like that. We had a fun night out sampling some of the iconic buckets of drinks and a fire show on the beach. Chaweng Beach is also supposed to be one of the best beaches but we found it also had quite a lot of rubbish on and once we had experienced the beautiful beaches of Koh Tao everything else didn’t quite live up to it.
Our Koh Samui best bits:
It didn’t take us long after landing in Chang Mai to agree we both really liked the city. Chang Mai used to be surrounded by a wall which small parts still remain at the four main entrance points to the city. There was lots of temples to explore, a park in the south west corner of the city which we were fortunate enough to see the flower festival and many cafes and restaurants.
While in Chang Mai we did a day trip to an elephant sanctuary. We spent a lot of time researching which to visit as there are hundreds to choose from, each calling themselves a sanctuary which at first look we thought must mean the elephants are treated well and had a good life. From reading reviews and websites about the sanctuaries we found this wasn’t necessarily the case, it seemed to be common knowledge that riding elephants was bad but this seemed to be the standard all the parks met to call themselves ethical. Many parks were offering bathing and washing experiences with the elephants which could mean forcing them into rivers or mud baths.
We got a recommendation of a sanctuary to visit and after some research we chose to go to Elephant Freedom Project. It was a relatively new project but the website made it clear that we would be observing the elephants doing whatever they wanted and feeding them. Once we were there we could see how passionate the owner was about elephant welfare and explained to us that elephants like to go into rivers and mud sometimes to cool off but are perfectly capable of doing it by themselves and don’t actually like being in really cold water. The day was unforgettable and we also got to do a short trek into the forest and swim in some waterfalls where we were the only people there, and got taken to a local village for freshly roasted coffee.
The owner explained to us that a lot of families in the North of Thailand had elephants and when tourism kicked off they rented them to companies to use in the cities. The project we visited was aiming to get their elephants back to nature from either riding parks or the other sanctuaries that still forced them into entertainment. The problem now is that a lot of the land in the North is farmland so the elephants can’t simply be let out into the wild as they would destroy farm land and risk being killed by the farmers, so they need protected areas to live.
We also took a cooking class at Smile Organic Farm which was really fun. We were taken to a local market and shown some of the main things Thai people may buy, our tour guide explained that a lot of people who live and work in the cities now prefer to buy curry pastes instead of making from scratch or they can even buy a meal in a plastic bag to reheat at home. We were taught about different types of Thai food and shown how to make some popular dishes, in the idyllic location where the farm was set.
Chiang Mai has a famous night market on a Sunday where large parts of the city are shut down and hundreds of stalls are set up, some of the temples were also used for food areas. We got to the market quite early so we’re able to have a good look round some of the stalls but once we had stopped to get food and it was a little later it had got incredibly busy with every street packed with people.
Our Chiang Mai best bits:
We really enjoyed our time in Thailand and if we came back there would be more places we would like to explore such as Chiang Rai and Pai in the North. In general we found the people in Thailand to be warm, welcoming and very willing to help us which helped to make our time there even more enjoyable. Although we weren’t expecting the number of tourists we came across it is no surprise so many people visit Thailand as it is a beautiful country and there is a large variety of delicious food to choose from. The main thing we found a challenge was that the majority of places only accepted cash which we hadn’t anticipated and thought that after Covid things might be more set up for card payments. Luckily for us there were 7-11 shops on every corner that accepted card and sold cheese toasties which were a great cheap lunch option!