Wow, four months into my travelling adventure! I finally have (some) time to reflect on what a whirlwind it has been to date. I have so much to write about but I’ll start with an overview of the four jam-packed weeks I spent in Thailand.
I would describe Bangkok as an assault on all the senses. The streets are claustrophobic due to overcrowding and lives are at risk when travelling through the streets. Cars refuse to stop as they weave impatiently around the throng of locals and tourists alike. The cacophony of noise from street sellers, calls to prayer and ‘a thousand conversations’ reverberate incessantly in one’s brain. If I was looking for a place to relax and unwind I was in the wrong city!
It wasn’t all doom and gloom however! I did manage to seek out some of the more beautiful sights of the city. Wat Pho (home to Thailand’s largest reclining golden buddha) was my favourite with The Grand Palace coming close behind. Despite these cultural gems however, I very quickly ascertained that the Bangkok vibe was not for me. Three days later and bound for greener pastures, I breathed a huge sigh of relief and began to relax.
During my time in Chiang Mai I managed to create some very special memories. I attended a silent meditation retreat which gave me a more positive outlook on life. I discovered a surprising affection for cooking at a Thai cooking school (and the results were actually edible!) But the most unforgettable experience for me was getting up close with elephants at an elephant sanctuary. Hearing the horrific abuse that some of the elephants had endured was heartbreaking. I will never be able to understand those that harm any animal. My heart was soothed seeing them with their minders (mamoots) and how deeply they are cared for. I feel humbled that despite their previous ordeals they trust humans enough to allow them to touch and feed them. They truly are the gentle giants of the animal kingdom.
Amongst all of that excitement I also managed to make time for more relaxing pursuits. I spent time perusing market stalls, eating delicious street food and spending quality ‘Sandra time’ journaling. This was complimented by having a friend join me for the week. Having somebody to share your thoughts with is a great way to unburden oneself. My friend is great at listening and offering the most beneficial and motivational advice. Her wisdom is always greatly received.
All too soon I was travelling to Pai. After a stomach churning four-hour bus ride I found myself at the Pai Treehouse resort. While the resort and surroundings are undeniably beautiful, it didn’t quite live up to expectations. The resort’s remote location was idyllic in mind but in reality it felt unsafe, especially at night. Heavy rainfall prevented the use of the outdoor features and this restricts the resorts desirability to the summer/spring seasons. There was also the ‘small’ drama of ‘Tim the cockroach’ which resulted in a ‘mini’ meltdown. None of this inspires me to want to return to the resort.
Pai is one of the most chilled out towns I have been lucky enough to visit. It is a huge shame that I never actually managed to relax whilst there! ‘Travellers tummy’ hit me on the first day, lasting for the duration of my stay. Whilst I made the most of it, as we Brits do, it restricted my movements.
As a coffee lover it is essential I find a palatable cuppa. Pai has some pretty amazing coffee shops on offer. I spent many a hour getting my caffeine hit and people watching. Walking Street and the surrounding markets continue that calm ambient feeling. There is no pressure to buy anything, there is no shouting from sellers to buy their wares. Pai has a level of respect for it’s visitors that is lacking elsewhere in Thailand. It is a quality that endears the town to me and Pai is somewhere I would most definitely visit again!
Pai marked the end of my time in Northern Thailand. From there I flew to Phuket ready for some island adventures.
I had heard mixed reviews about Phuket. Some people love it and claim it is one of the most beautiful places they have ever been. On the other hand, some people have said it is has lost what beauty it had due to the increasing tourism levels.
After a hair raising journey travelling in the transfer bus, I arrived at my accommodation later than anticipated at 7pm. It was tempting to spend the evening in bed but I was facing the dilemma of having only one night in Phuket. Because of this I was persuaded to see the sights by a friend who was in town.
Our first stop was a local food market where I sampled some delicious octopus. From there we made our way to the madness of Bangla Road. Lady boys roam the streets looking every inch the beautiful ‘women’ they pro-port to be. Sex show placards were shoved in my face every other footstep – “I have no desire to see a ‘turtle show’ thank you”. It was a ramped up, sleazier version of the streets I had trodden in Bangkok; not appealing at all.
My friend and I opted to take our beers to the beach where we took in the waves and talked about travelling. Before too long it was midnight. Just like Cinderella, (albeit on the back of a scooter), I was back at my accommodation. All that was left was that damn 6am wake-up call!
When travelling by ferry it really is a full day to your destination. The process is not fast or simple but it is efficient and it works. Travel days generally consist of an early transfer from accommodation to a ticket office for check-in. Here you get a a ticket for each ‘leg’ of the journey – it is very rare to travel by only one mode of transport. Trips usually have one or two bus/coach transfers as well as the ferry.
From the ticket office it is onwards to a passenger waiting area to check in again and receive a brightly coloured sticker declaring your Island of choice. Each island has a different colour and it is interesting to ‘people watch’ and see who is going where. The wait time at this stage is usually very long and I found it boring and tedious. If your holding area happens to be at the ferry port you are one of the lucky ones. From there you walk aboard, deposit your luggage and chill. If you are not so lucky you get to take a transfer to port.
Six hours later I was exhausted walking on to the ferry. It wasn’t the quickest of journeys despite the ‘high speed’ advertisement. My island was the second to last stop and I didn’t dare try to sleep for fear of missing it!
Finally, after fourteen hours of travelling, I arrived at my accommodation in Koh Phangan. My room was metres from a beautiful white-sand beach and I was just in time to see my first sunset. It was breathtaking it was here I finally thought to myself “this is the dream”. Koh Phangnan definitely holds my affection over the other islands for this reason alone. But why was I in Phangan to begin with? No it wasn’t for the legendary Full Moon Party. I was stepping out of my comfort zone and trying something new – Muay Thai.
The outcome: Muay Thai is too brutal a sport for me. Trying to pivot and twist my feet and body at the same time is too difficult and my bony legs cannot take the constant kicking. By midweek I was pretty much done with training and decided to make the most of the more social aspects of camp life.
Koh Phangan has an abundance of beautiful beaches, hidden waterfalls and scrumptious foods. I definitely recommend ‘Aunties’ for some red snapper. She bade us farewell to go to local market and returned with the biggest snappers she could find – now thats fresh!
Now I wouldn’t say that I am an avid football fan but I do like to support my country in the big events. I am pleased to report that I was able to keep up with the World Cup courtesy of ‘The Mason Arms’ next door. The Mason Arms is a replica English pub and it is where I celebrated that first epic England win. The celebrations (and shots) lasted until 3am! Luckily they make breakfast fry-ups worthy of a London cafe and cheese and marmite toasties to satisfy the best of hangover cravings!
So what was my verdict after a week? Muay Thai definitely isn’t for me but ‘island life’ and the people of Koh Phangnan definitely are!
Next stop on the itinerary was Koh Lanta – after another tiring day of travelling. After a week of sweaty camp life, bamboo huts and outdoor showers, it is absolute bliss to stay in a spa quality hotel with its cavernous double bed and sea view balcony.
Koh Lanta is in low season in June and many businesses/services close during this period. I whiled away my days strolling the beach sipping cocktails and wondering how I could watch the next World Cup match. The irony being the local pub opening because my hotel barman called and told them that I wanted to watch the game!
I left Koh Lanta feeling refreshed in both body and mind. I really do enjoy doing absolutely nothing periodically.
From Koh Lanta, the geographically challenged person that I am, moved to Koh Samui. If you look at a map and plot my route you will understand!
Another tedious travelling day later and I arrived in Samui to the crème de la crème of accommodation. The Deva Beach & Spa resort boasts its own private beach and restaurant. I dined on incredible food and sipped luscious cocktails daily. My room was one of the most luxurious I have ever stayed in. I had a jacuzzi bath on my balcony for crying out loud! But what I remember Koh Samui for is the incredible last sunset I witnessed. It was the most stunning array of colours in the sky I have ever seen. I cannot deny that I spent a few teary-eyed moments marvelling at the four weeks I had spent.
Thailand is a country I would visit again in a heartbeat. It is a country that taught me how to overcome many obstacles. The language and cultural barrier heightened my feelings of loneliness at times. I was fearful about travelling as a solo female and I had never spent such a significant amount of time learning about myself (soul-searching). Thailand helped me push through those self-imposed limitations. I managed to ‘defrag’ the contents of my mind into manageable segments and I travelled four weeks in a foreign country with no incident. The result? I have a feeling of inner peace that I wish I could bottle and pass on to everybody that I meet. No longer do I walk with tension in my body or shoulders up around my ears. I feel confident in my ability to look after myself.
Thailand also opened my eyes a little wider to the poverty that some countries live with. I met Thai people with very little who go about their days as if they owned the world. It is humbling to say the least! I truly learnt that less is more during my trip and I was able to let go of redundant and unneeded luxuries with ease. From the bottom of my heart – from a traveller to a country that gave so much without knowing – Thank you!
I’ve so much more to write about my trip but time is more limited now I am ‘adulting’ and ‘doing life’ again here in Sydney.
Until next time…