Thailand is a tourist mecca. The trail is well paved; English is everywhere, menus come with pictures and the ice comes in neat little tubes. These are three things that help me to travel comfortably. Our three weeks in Thailand in May/June 2017 went swiftly. The weather was always warm, with only a few rainy days scattered in the mix.
Our adventure began in Bangkok. Coming from Cambodia and Vietnam, we loved being in a modern city. Wearing “those” touristy elephant pants was no longer required, although they were still awfully prevalent in other parts of Thailand. In Bangkok we rode the ridiculous Klong boat along the canal, trying to avoid falling in the inky-black “water”. There are not enough vaccinations on the planet to save you after falling in that syrup. We narrowly avoided being swindled by the gem scam and perused backpacker central. Much to my joy we visited multiple malls, but bought very little as Bangkok was pricey (only compared to our earlier destinations). We ate Bangkok street food and it was pretty good. However, we did not eat anything that would feature on a David Attenborough special.
From Bangkok we flew to Chiang Mai to be thoroughly underwhelmed. The city was vaguely enjoyable and made nice coffee, but other than that it didn’t do much to excite us. Hipster-Stoners roamed in packs all expressing their individuality by dressing alike and professing their veganism to each other. We visited both the Saturday and Sunday night walking streets and ate more street food. The giant spring rolls were a highlight. Ben went on a mountain bike trip down Doi Suthep Mountain, while I watched movies and waited out a stomach situation. For our final day we rented a motorbike and Ben got fined by the Thai police for not having a license, despite having a license. Luckily they accepted cash on the side of the road as payment. Needless to say, we were ready to leave.
To reach Ko Tao we booked a flight/bus combo from Chiang Mai. Ko Tao, a little island off the east coast, was paradise. While we were there we completed our Open Water Diving certifications. The fact that I managed to complete the course was a pure miracle, perhaps because the full moon and the stars aligned to create a parallel universe were I was capable of avoiding drowning with a 20 kg tank strapped to my back. It is quite possibly the bravest and most terrifying thing I have ever done. I’m not convinced there’s an inner diver in me trying to get out, but I’m willing to try it again… I think.
After the adventures in Ko Tao, I needed some relaxing time at the beach so we headed to Ko Samui. We had an adorable bungalow and a beach to ourselves, which was just what the doctor (me) ordered. I tried my first Thai massage or at least I think that’s what happened. I wasn’t sure if perhaps I had gone to the wrong address and was beaten up; either way it cost me money and I walked away limping.
From Ko Samui we took a bus across to the west coast to Ao Nang Beach. Both Ao Nang and Nopparat beaches were made for walking, which we did a lot of, but not really swimming. The levels of trash had significantly increased on the west coast. Ben went rock climbing at Railay beach and had a blast. Unfortunately, his arms were in a lot of pain for the following two days. I was a good wife and didn’t exploit his pain… much. Whilst Ben was climbing I went to get a haircut. The little shack I ended up at wasn’t used to cutting hair and gave me my new look, a lopsided cut, which was much shorter than I wanted, at least on one side.
Now forced to walk with my head on a lean, we took a minivan to Ko Lanta. Ko Lanta was very quiet and was undoubtedly in low-season. We rented bicycles for a day, with mine trying to kill me within a few minutes of riding it. For lunch we had our first boozy bucket, which resulted in a lot of giggles and vague memories of biking home. A speed boat took us to the Phi Phi Islands where we joined throngs of tourists to walk on Maya Bay where The Beach (starring Leonardo DiCaprio) was filmed. Maya Bay was filled with trash and people and it was horrible. However, we found the beach we had been dreaming of on Bamboo Island where the sand was white and the turquoise water sparkled. Finally we were free of swimming in trash and it was heavenly.
Thailand was a great place to visit, but I don’t think it is everything the internet hype-machine makes it out to be. Years of being a tourist mecca have commercialized its culture, ruined its environment and left behind a husk of what it used to be. We had been told that there is no culture shock going to Thailand, as it is has been thoroughly westernized and this rung true. As hard as culture shock can be to overcome, this is what makes a place worth visiting, as it means that it is different from your own. There were places that I loved visiting though and I am positive that I will never, ever forget my open water diving experience. If not by the photos, then by the nightmares (that’s a joke).
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