So the first stop on my 5 month Asian odyssey was Thailand. It was never on my bucketlist of countries to visit but my late brother, David, had spent months lazing around the islands so I figured while I was over this way I would go. Plus seemed pretty idiot proof and tourist friendly.
Where to start… I flew into Bangkok, and Trailfinders put me in the Arab district, which was quite surreal. Major shopping here. Bangkok is seedy as feck, full of ‘bar beers’ where Thai girls play pool and flirt with desperate oul lads and the whole city smells of shrimp paste. There’s no sunset due to the smog. Luckily it was only for a couple of nights. I did see a huge pink Christmas tree though and they have Boots pharmacies.
Got a flight to Phuket and the taxi blasted techno music all the way to the hotel. Apparently its never too early to start the party in Phuket… Bang Tao beach was nice and quiet despite the resorts, and I spent Christmas there. Tinsel sparkling in the sun is an unusual festive touch. I had a dish called ‘bad guy’ rice in a makeshift restaurant on the side of the road for Christmas dinner, listening to awful karaoke from nearby bar. Still one of my top meals of the trip, should have gotten the recipe.
I booked most accomodation from home and asked for recommendations on islands etc mainly because I hadnt a clue what I was at and quite nervous. Many people suggested Phi Phi.
Oh poor Phi Phi, you make me so sad. The stench and rubbish everywhere from lack of sanitation facilities, the beaches clogged with longtail boats and oil slicks, the booze buckets strewn around after the drunken yobs. Huge developments and building work, scaffolding and piles of bricks all over. No official permits.
Basically Phi Phi has this little winding street system in Tonsai Village (white person land) which consists of tattoo shop, tie dye/ elephant pants shop, tour shop, massage parlour (ahem) and a stall selling alcohol. Repeat indefintely. It’s completely contrived and panders to the loud, brash visitors. It’s comically good craic though if you’re in the mood for fire jumping and remixes. There are niche bars to suit if you want a live rock gig or to chill in a hammock and listen to Glen Hansard songs. As for tours… the famous Maya beach is covered with tourists. Don’t bother. Side note: Hollywood designed that beach and blew up tons of rock to make it more paradise like…
I went back to Phuket then on the ferry and discovered the mental mini van collection “system”. The drivers must identify your sticker number as you stand around while other drivers point vaguely in some direction if you ask for help, all the fobbing off. (Generally in Thailand, this is the help you receive, someone mumbles “go there” *points at nothing*) It’s pretty much a nightmare, you’ll pull your hair out but you’ll be ripped off if you get a taxi.
I made it to Patong anyway. Another filthy town which panders to rich tourists. Junk food chains and designer gear aplenty. The night life is crazy. There’s this circus-like main street called Bangla Road (Bean galore as I nicknamed it) which mainly consists of lady boys, pole dancing and being asked if you’d like to see a sexy ping pong show. No, no I don’t, go away. It’s an entirely depressing spectacle. New Year’s Eve had a different vibe though, a wholesome innocence as the street was lined with crowds of people wearing glowing headbands and spraying each other with fake snow and silly string. On the beach, people let off hundreds of lanterns and it was a beautiful sight. Then the tourists brought their air of loud drunken menance and it turned uncomfortable. Fire + crowded public place + alcohol = bad situation. The beach and surrounding streets were an absolute kip the next day and I wonder why the Thai people sell themselves out like that.
Koh Phangan was a welcome break. This was the island my brother had been enamoured with and raved about. It was undeveloped, green, hilly and somehow, despite the renowned Full Moon Parties, the island maintained an vibe of “You’re a guest here, have your fun at X time, clean up after and be respectful of locals” Koh Phangan is like the anti-Phi Phi. I stayed in Coral Bungalows, right on Sunset Beach. The food was delicious, the views were incredible. Stunning sunsets. I went sea kayaking before dusk, which was gorgeous. I spent time lounging in a tree top bar overlooking the ocean and creating designs on the furniture with neon paint. I took so many panoramic photographs of the sand and surrounding hills. I could definitely see the appeal of enchanting Koh Phangan.
Koh Samui was the last island, and that was because Trailfinders booked my flight to Chiang Mai from there. Though I was on the heavily touristic East coast, I stayed down at the bottom away from the main resorts. There is a lot to see on Koh Samui, many beautiful temples and adventure activities. I went zip lining and up to a waterfall where I got to sit on top of a 4 × 4. Unfortunately, Koh Samui also sells out to tourists and this greatly affects their animals. I saw leopards and tigers treated poorly and abused, just for the sake of “photoshoots”, elephant chained, beaten and harnessed to give rides, chained monkeys, and tours advertising snake and crocodile shows.
I imagine the islands were beautiful and serene once, but now they have been destroyed due to questionable ethics over a quick buck. Possibly Krabi, Koh Lanta and Koh Tao remain mostly unspoiled. I urge visitors to think about whether they really need to stay in a deluxe multi storey resort. Must you ride an elephant? Is it right to have a photo with a tiger? Should you go to a strip show or a girlie bar? Could you maybe show consideration for the surrounds if you’re going to a full moon party? Showing my age here. Ha!
Enough pontificating from me. I’ve learned a lot about what I want and don’t want from my travels and who and what to avoid. Play it by ear. It’s the FOMO though, it will get you every time.