It’s no secret that I love to explore new places, but I really don’t enjoy the actual travelling. I get very restless on planes and being in an air-conditioned vehicle for a long time doesn’t make me feel amazing, I have been able to fly business class a handful of times which drastically improves the flying experience, but I luckily didn’t have to pay for those myself.
Therefore when my eldest sister announced she was relocating from London to Melbourne, (which takes around 24 hours by plane) I didn’t leap at the chance to go and visit, especially not for a short amount of time. My other sister – Emily who lives in England – and I decided to meet her somewhere in the middle which would make the journey less strenuous and allow us all to visit somewhere new.
We invited our partners which made it a nice sized group and decided on Southeast Asia almost immediately due to its versatility. With that in mind Thailand seemed like a great option, we were able to include city, wildlife, culture, history and islands all in one trip, without spending a fortune.
We travelled in May which is an incredibly hot time of year, as soon as we landed in Bangkok we were overwhelmed by the thick city air. Although a bustling international city, Bangkok retains a lot of character. Outside of the tourist traps, the people are incredibly friendly and helpful. The wet heat meant that recovering from jet lag and a sleepless night was taking longer to than usual, so we decided to take it easy while we were here.
We explored a few of the temples on a tour with a local and visited one of the floating markets. Although these were nice experiences, I think we were duped into this because we hadn’t done enough research, we saw some interesting life along the waterways but a large percentage of the market didn’t feel genuine and our guide would whizz past a lot of it and only stop at what seemed like his friends stalls, they also had some endangered species available for tourists to take photographs with which we were hoping to avoid seeing. I’d definitely like to revisit at a cooler time of year to experience more of the city.
Our next stop was Khao Sok National Park, with limestone cliffs and dense green forests winding around emerald waters it was a complete contrast from the city. The air is much cooler and thinner here so we rejuvenated quickly. We were staying at Elephant Hills which is a responsible elephant sanctuary. We spent time exploring the rainforest on guided walks and kayaked before visiting their elephant sanctuary, here we could touch, wash and feed the elephants. This sanctuary takes great care of the elephants (which were all rescued from carrying heavy building materials), they roam around freely and are not tied up. There are also no rides on offer which is really bad for their backs and wellbeing.
After that we travelled by longtail to their floating camp, we each had private tents complete with our own kayak we could use to explore the surrounding lakes. We could jump straight into the water from our tent and there is a lot of wildlife species in the surrounding rainforest including wild elephants, tortoise and monkeys. We could hear gibbons in the morning and spotted a tortoise on a hike.
It was now time to head south to Thailand’s beautiful islands. We began at Koh Yao Noi which is a relatively unknown, remote island offering an authentic window into Thai life. The island is very small and so the roads are very little, everyone gets around on mopeds or on foot.
The island is mostly Muslim and we travelled during Ramadan which meant other travellers were few and far between. The people here are the most welcoming I have experienced anywhere in the world and have an incredibly open and laid-back way of life. Read more about Koh Yao Noi here.
Finally we headed to Phi Phi which is a cluster of tiny islands surrounded by crystal clear lagoons and sugary beaches, the glistening waters are full diverse marine life. Unfortunately, the beauty has attracted the world’s attention and it is rampant with tourists and backpackers, seemingly with no regard for the delicate ecosystems. The shoreline is strewn with litter (bottles, handbags, shoes) and the beaches are covered with drunk people and bars blaring music. After being offered a ‘booze cruise’ by every Brit we saw we found a local with a long tail boat who offered to take us to see the other islands, as soon as we were just minutes away from the main island it felt like we had stepped into another world. The azure water was dotted with towering cliffs revealing a glimmer of white limestone through dense green trees. The islands were lined with caves, coves and inviting empty beaches. Our guide gestured for us to snorkel, as we looked down a kaleidoscopic underwater world exposed itself, tropical fish and colourful coral swirled beneath us as we swam around.
Sadly the booze cruises were never far away, screeching past in the distance, it seemed like such a contrast to the peaceful kingdom which lay beneath and made the litter on the beaches even more unbelievable. Being on a longtail, we could get closer to the cliffs and tiny islets than the bigger cruise boats could which gave us a taste of tranquillity. Away from the main island I assume, there are some great places to stay which would avoid the tourist-centric areas altogether.
Our final stop was Phuket, we stayed close to Kata beach which is known as one of the prettiest in Thailand and definitely had less litter than we saw elsewhere. The beach is huge with powdery sand and water a soft shade of green, it reminded me a lot of Santa Monica beach in California. It was a great spot to finish our first tour of Thailand and relax before our journey home.
More photos from Thailand…