In December 2017 I finally got to visit a country that has been sitting on my travel bucketlist for many years, “the land of smiles”, Thailand. Here is my “warts and all” journal of my three week holiday. I say warts and all because many blogs and travel websites give off the impression that holidays are all relaxation and fun, whilst in fact it is usual that holidays contain negative experiences as well as positive. Of course the positives outweigh the negatives by far or else people would stop travelling.
(As opposed to many travel blogs that claim to help you plan your trip, my travel posts are my opportunity to share the highlights and low-points that I experienced during my holiday. )
I spent a majority of my holiday travelling solo. Before I decided to travel to Thailand, I made sure to do plenty of research on Thai culture, and how safe it is for solo female travelers. What I concluded is Thailand is one of the safest countries for women travelling on their own, as long as the usual precautions are adhered to.
As with every independent holiday I’ve been on, planning is the most difficult part. I spent hours and hours on the internet reading travel blogs and trip adviser, trying to decide where to go and how long to stay.
I like a bit of everything when I am holiday. I like museums, walking and hiking, water sports, food markets and eating out. What I don’t like these days are lots of noisy bars and clubs and late night drinking. I was concerned about Thailand’s reputation for catering to party-loving tourists and so I did some research to plan an itinerary right for me. This is what lead me to avoid islands like Phuket, Ko Pha ngan and Ko Phi Phi. I’m sure these islands are worth a visit however for myself, I was happy not to spend my time island hopping.
I made my planning fairly simple. For accommodation, I used www.booking.com, as there are tons of accommodation to choose from, all have free cancellation up to a certain date, and some bookings don’t even require credit card details. For internal transfers, I booked a train on www.12goasia.com and I booked both my internal flights on www.airasia.com.
My 3 week itinerary
Days 1-3 Bangkok
I spent 2.5 days in Bangkok, staying in a brilliant relaxed hostel, The Yard which is 5 minutes from Ari BTS station. The hostel was ideally located to access from Suvarnabumi airport by Sky Train and BTS. The downside is that it was quite tricky to get to the old town where the temples and most tourist attractions are located. On the first day I was very tired and jet lagged and did not do much. On the second day I ventured into Old Town with a friend from my dormitory. Getting there was an adventure; we took a train to Ratchatewi, and then a passenger ferry. The ferry cost just 9 baht. **On arrival off the ferry a man approached us and asked us where we were going. When we replied The Grand Palace, he told us it was closed until 1pm that day. He offered us a deal where we would be taken to 5 temples by tuk tuk for just 30baht each, as long as we visited a jewelry sale, a special “expo”. I was reluctant however my friend was keen and so we went along with it. After the second temple we were taken to two jewelry sales events. Being given the hard sell was very uncomfortable and I personally regretted accepting the deal. However, our tuk tuk driver received his free gas and we were taken to a third temple where our tuk tuk driver subsequently abandoned us. Determined to go to the Grand Palace, we arranged another similar deal whereby we were taken to yet another jewelry event, and afterwards straight to The Grand Palace. The palace was amazing but the experience was slightly tainted by the extremely dense crowds of other tourists and the very hot weather.
**I have later learned that the scam we were privy to is an infamous Bangkok scam described here: Gem Scam. I am embarrassed that I did not have my street smarts that day! Never again will I agree to such a scam just to save a few quid.
To get back to The Yard from the old town, myself and my friend took a taxi. The taxi driver had the meter switched off and when we requested him to turn it on he refused, instead wanting to charge us 600BHT on account of the rush hour traffic. My friend bartered a little to reduce our fare (200 BHT each). Many Guide Books advise to only take metered taxis and if taxi drivers refuse, wait for another. Over-charging taxis was one aspect of Bangkok that I found frustrating.
On my third day I visited the Chakuchak Weekend Market, near Moochit Station where I ate padthai and the traditional market special, coconut icecream. After this I made my way to Hua Lamphong station to catch my sleeper train to Chaing Mai. If you’d like to know more about my sleeper train adventure, read:
Days 4-8 Chang Mai
For the Chiang Mai leg of my holiday, I stayed in a condo with a friend from home. I spent a couple of days with my friend exploring Chaing Mai by foot. We visited the main temple Wat Chedi Lueng which is a large temple with a few buildings and ruins. We also visited the temple on top of Doi Suthep, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep.
I really wanted to visit Pai, a village popular with tourists 3 hours drive outside Chaing Mai. Although it’s advised to stay at least one night there if you can, I was strapped for time so did a daytrip for 900THB. I enjoyed my daytrip but it’s a shame I did not get to see Pai’s town area.
One of the best day-trips was a visit to the Elephant Nature Park. I had prebooked this online in advance from home, it cost £57 which is quite steep but I didn’t mind splurging out on a sanctuary. The full daytrip included bathing and feeding the elephants and a generous buffet Thai lunch, with fruit and desserts. I felt really thrilled to be surrounded by free-walking elephants, buffalo, cats and dogs.
On my final day I visited a waterfall near Doi Suthep Zoo. I had wanted to go to a bigger waterfall such as Mae Sa but it was difficult to get to with public transport so we opted for the nearest. I liked the waterfall, there was a pool that we found where people were diving and swimming (ignoring the “Do not swim” sign) where we rested.
Days 9-11 Krabi
I flew to Krabi from Chaing Mai via Air Asia. I arrived in Krabi in the evening and got an airport bus to my hotel, Andaman Bay Resort. The next day I did a full day-trip to the hotsprings, Emerald Pool and Tiger Cave Temple. All were
amazing though the time at the hot springs was not long enough to enjoy it. At the temple, only 3 of our group of 12 climbed the 1280 steps to the Budha at the top. The climb took 40 minutes without any rest time. It was hot and the climb was challenging. The temple waiting to be explored was worth it.
After my tourgroup left the grounds of the Tiger Cave Temple, I assumed we were heading back to our respective hotels. To my horrer, we were actually going into an Elephant Trekking area. Once off the bus I told my tourguide I did not wish to ride an elephant and so he arranged for me to be taken back to my hotel.
After just two nights in Krabi, not having chance to visit Rayleigh Beach, I caught a speedboat to Ko Yao Noi for a 3 day yoga mini retreat.
Days 12-15 Island Yoga, Ko Yao Noi
I loved this retreat. The little dormitory hut I stayed in was so cute and comfortable. The yoga took place in two sizable, clean studios, all equipment supplied. One studio was for Beginners, the other Intermediate and Advanced. The basic cost of the retreat included a Tai Chi lesson at 6.am at the beach, a morning yoga lesson at 7.30 til 9.30, then a delicious buffet breakfast served at 9.30am. There was also an afternoon yoga class at 4.30 til 6pm. Extra yoga classes and treatments were available for additional costs such as Sound Healing or Myofascial Release Therapy . My muscles were so sore from climbing the Tiger Cave Temple steps that Beginners level yoga was all I could manage. Outside of yoga classes we were free to explore the island as we wanted.
Ko Yao Noi is a quiet island with a few nice restaurants, massage parlors and beautiful beaches. The beach at the retreat was a tidal beach where the sea would be out for miles. There was little public transport really so not being a scooter driver was a bit of a disadvantage as I did not get to see the rest of the island. I hired a push bike for one day for 200THB but it was so old and difficult to pedal that I dared not attempt to ride over the hills with it.
For a 3 night mini retreat at Island Yoga, it cost me roughly £129.00. I booked my retreat here: Island Yoga
Days 16-20 Ko Lanta
This was the point in the holiday I most regretted, as I had loved Island Yoga so much I wished I had extended my stay there for at least one night. 3 days of yoga was not enough. However I had pre-booked a bungalow at Relax Beach and had missed the deadline for free cancellation. I stayed in a bungalow for two nights at Andaman Bay Bungalow, which was located right on Relax Bay, which turned out to be a small but really nice beach with perfect swimming conditions. Many bars and bungalow resorts outlined the beach so it was reasonably busy with tourists. Unfortunately my stay was a bit of a disaster as each night there was loud music playing until the early hours. On the second night music played til 3.15am. Being a light sleeper, this wasn’t tolerable for me. It was not an option to sleep in, I had already booked a snorkeling trip with Opal Speedboats to Ko Rok so I had to be up at 7.30am. Not willing to bear another night of interrupted sleep, I booked out a night early (forfeiting my prepaid £21 for a third night) and moved to Hey Beach Hostel, 15 minutes drive north up the coast.
Aside from the sleeping disasters, I really liked the beach at Relax Bay. During my stay I spent one whole day on the beach sunbathing, reading, drinking Chang and swimming in the sea having a great time on my own. I’d found a restaurant nearby, Yasee Restaurant, so good I ate there three times. Each time I saw two of the same groups of tourists I’d seen there before.
I really liked Hey Beach Hostel. It was clean, comfortable, quiet at night, excellent friendly staff, and conveniently located next to Klong Dao Beach. Unfortunately on the one occasion I attempted to swim in the sea, I could feel something biting me in the water. Other travelers I spoke to spoke of a similar experience. On Christmas Eve, the staff had organised a BBQ and party to mark the festive occasion. It seemed the whole hostel was in attendance. The food was amazing. There was also a raffle with prize giveaways such as kayaking day-trips to The Four Islands.
On Christmas Day I shunned any notion of doing anything festive and went on a second snorkeling trip with Opal Speedboats, this time to The Four Islands. Despite being a little ill, I had a fantastic day. There were four snorkeling stops in total. Also included in the tour was my highlight, a visit to The Emerald Cave, which involved a 4 or 5 minute swim through the cave. I chose not to wear a life vest and swam freestyle, admittedly one of the scariest things I’ve done in a while. There were dozens of other tourists in the cave from other tours, swimming in and out of the cave at the same time. At some moments it was pitch blackness.
On boxing day, I flew back to Bangkok via Air Asia from Krabi Airport. To get from Ko Lanta to the airport was easy, I booked a bus ticket the evening before with reception at my hostel. The bus was surprisingly quick, taking only 1.5 hours meaning I arrived at the airport 4 hours before my flight.
If you’d like to know more about my experiences in Ko Lanta, please read:
Days 20-22 Bangkok
For accommodation, I decided to book a nice hotel at a more central area of the city. I spent one night at Amber Boutique Silom Hotel, which contrary to what the name suggests is 5 minutes walk from Nom Chomsi train station. My room was lovely and luxurious compared to the other accommodation types I had been staying in. My only complaint is that I could not connect to the hotel WiFi on my phone. I conscripted the receptionist to help me but neither of us could work out why. The hotel is conveniently located, being only 5 minutes from Nom Chomsi station makes it easy to connect to the BTS sky train and metro to explore the city. On my last full day, feeling unwell, I took it easy and did some shopping at MBK shopping center, located at the National Stadium train station. For my final night, I stayed at The Yard and then it was time to fly home.
For Bangkok, I have so many regrets. I would have liked to see the Floating Market and Khaosan Road.
Chaing Mai, I regret not going to Pai for at least one night. I did enjoy my daytrip there. I also regret not going to a jazz bar I heard about. Unfortunately I only heard about this place from other travelers after I had left the city! Also, not seeing a Muay Thai fight. Some of my fellow travelers I met at the Elephant Park had invited me to a fight with them but the cost of a ticket was 1500BHT which I thought was a bit too expensive.
Krabi, I missed going to Rayleigh beach which is supposed to be lovely.
Ko Lanta, I’m fairly satisfied with my stay in Ko Lanta having done two snorkeling trips that I enjoyed immensely. One regret may be not going to the National Park in the south of the island.
I really enjoyed my holiday overall, Thailand has some very beautiful scenery and landscapes, and the people are generally very friendly and smiley. However, “paradise” is a description often applied to this country but I cannot sincerely agree. I ate in a variety of restaurants and at street food markets and personally could not get on with the food. It was often too hot, or too sweet (many dishes contain brown sugar). The many scams in the cities was something that made me uncomfortable and nervous. A great holiday in all, and who knows, some day I may go back 🙂