04.08.17 & 05.08.17, Day 1 – Scotland to Thailand
I’ve been wanting to go to Thailand for forever since hearing friends stories and stalking Instagram pages full of gorgeous images of this alluring country. My boyfriend and I have planned a trip of a lifetime first to Thailand for an 18 day exploration tour of the north and south of Thailand with tour company Intrepid whereby you are accompanied by a local guide to show you all their country has to offer. Then we move on to Australia on a 1 year working/holiday visa to hopefully gain jobs within our professions as a teacher and quantity surveyor and pursue any other ambitions like learning how to make barista style coffee and travelling around down under. It’s not been easy getting to this point, we’ve ummed and ahhd over whether to take time out of our perfectly full and satisfied lives to the point that this trip has consumed us for the last 6 months with handing in our notices, going through the procedures of renting out our flat and saying goodbye to friends and family for a while. Emotions have run high but if you can dream it you can do it.
I said I’d be ok once I had a G&T in hand
We flew from Glasgow via Dubai to Bangkok airport. In Dubai we ended up going to the wrong gate and then couldn’t work out if we were being ushered into the Bangkok or the Hong Kong flight. Turns out the flight was stopping in Bangkok first then Hong Kong, I’d never experienced one flight going to more than one place before. To get through immigration was a nightmare! The queues and queues of people wanting to get into Thailand spiralled for metre upon metre, our bags had been placed to the side of the conveyor belt as they’d been circulating for so long! I’d braced myself for any taxi scams by ensuring I went to the desk to be given my print out of the taxi registration number and I’d be sure to be back at the desk if he refused to turn on the meter. Low and behold the taxi desk had got up to speed with technology, and self-service machines were in place, which I was wary of as who would I complain to if I had to?! Nevertheless, I stood my ground, kept the piece of paper with all of his details on and refused to close the door until I saw that the meter was on and it started at 35 baht, which all taxi meters start at in Bangkok.
Our hotel was really welcoming and they immediately handed us some fruit juice, copied our passports and assisted us to our room. Quite tired, and knowing it would get dark soon, we quickly showered and freshened up with the aim of doing some wandering. We happened to be located just 8 minutes walk from Khaosan Road, so we did what any 30 year old backpacker would do and headed there to see what all the fuss was about. Lined with the big chains we were used to seeing back home – McDonald’s, Starbucks and Boots, we were hassled with questions about whether we wanted a tuk tuk and Gavin had salesman after salesman approach him about whether he was interested in buying a suit! We walked the length of the road and halfway back, settled into a very open and airy restaurant with live music. A lot of the restaurants have the same open feel environment. We immediately ordered a jug of Singha and the cliché Pad Thai and Thai green curry. The food was very welcoming after having travelled for almost a day. We then headed to a nearby bar still on Khaosan Road, which had different levels and again was very open and airy with fans blowing cold air all around. We both had cocktails – me a piña colada and Gavin a mojito. After that we wearily headed back to the hotel and we were in bed by 8:45pm! Jetlag had caught up with us!
Getting up this morning was difficult. We slept for about 15 hours and therefore didn’t start our day until about 1pm! Hungry from being asleep for so long, we headed back in the direction of Khaosan Road and ended up on a street not too far away with similar open airy seating to the night before, which looked appealing. I really wanted some ‘typical’ breakfast, I wasn’t keen on rice or noodles at that time of the day (even though it was lunch time), so I opted for the eggs skillet which was tomato based with red onions, baby corn and two fried eggs. Gavin opted for a chicken noodle dish. When the dishes arrived I felt a bit disappointed to find large noodles in with my eggs but nevertheless I gave it a go, I’d also been given toast and jam and the jam tasted like the very sweet jam you find in an empire biscuit or strawberry tart. I’d ordered an iced coffee to wash it all down. We sat and people watched for a while then had a wander down the narrow streets to browse the shops. We then came across the Chao Phraya river and the Phra Sumen Fort, built in the reign of King Rama for ammunition and weapon art storage. We had our first Thai foot massage in the narrow streets of Bangkok which was so relaxing, if not sore at some points! We proceeded to walk back to the hotel for a dip in the refreshing hotel pool before our Intrepid meeting that evening.
Dashing around, I hadn’t dressed up for the meeting as I wasn’t sure what to expect, my hair was still soaking from the pool! There were lots of groups down in the hotel lobby, meeting for Intrepid trips. We were then greeted by Nok our tour leader and 6 other travellers – Sarah, 29 from Somerset, Frederiqué (Freddy), 20 from the Netherlands, Anna, 29 and Arne, 31 from Germany and Alex, 28 and Hannah, 23 from Queensland, Australia. Nok explained the tour and suggested that we all head out for dinner together. We ended up going back to the restaurant we had been to for lunch, but we had an air con supplied room at the back. We had seen a rough looking dog when we were there earlier, he had scars on his face, his tail had been cut and he had large sticky out teeth, turns out his name was John, he enjoyed the air con room as much as we did, he kept popping his head back in. I had pang nang chicken curry with rice for dinner, I was sure I’d never had it before but it tasted really familiar with just the right amount of spice. Nok stayed with us for dinner then she left us to allow us to do our own thing, we ended up staying in the place for a while, ordering more drinks like banana and strawberry daiquiris, and having a really good time. We then had our last drink in a bar directly across from our hotel and were there until last orders. The only downside was having to pack my rucksack for the early start the next day. I left it until the morning and I didn’t sleep very well as I kept thinking I was going to sleep through my alarm!
Today we had a long drive from the bustling city of Bangkok to Sukothai in Northern Thailand. We got some breakfast from 7/11 – A packet croissant, a frosty cereal bar and a chocolate milk, they don’t sell any fruit which is a shame as that’s all that’s missing! We got a mini van to the main bus station, where I was dreading the move into the main local bus, I envisaged feeling cramped and hot but I couldn’t have been more wrong! We were greeted by a very clean, spacious bus, where the seats stretched back and there were foot rests. Once the journey had started we were given a complimentary bottle of water and a banana cake which was lovely. The journey was approx 6 hours and I started my new book, ‘Big Magic,’ by Elizabeth Gilbert and read some magazines on my iPad. We stopped for lunch at a local eatery and I had a pumpkin and pork red curry which was a little spicy and not my favourite thing I’ve eaten so far. We arrived at the hotel in Sukothai at about 4pm, the place was beautiful and tranquil and we each had our own little bungalow as our room. We discovered that the Aussies and us had an adjoining door which came in handy later on in the day. I had a long, leisurely shower and we all met for dinner at the Sukothai Kitchen restaurant across from the resort. I had sweet and sour chicken and Gavin had a spicy pork curry, again the food wasn’t my favourite that day. After dinner we headed back to Alex and Hannah’s room for some Chang & Singhas that they’d went and bought via a tuk tuk to 7/11 before dinner, we opened our adjoining door and everyone else came over too and we had a really fun night laughing and chilling out chatting.
08.08.17, Day 4 – Sukothai Temples
I slept like a baby last night, so far the mosquito spray is keeping the mozzies at bay as I only have one bite and it’s under my hair on my head! We had breakfast on the decking outside the breakfast restaurant, toast and fried eggs followed by some fruit and a mini banana muffin and two cups of tea (heaven) it was really nice. Nok told me that Thai people make a big pan of food and that is served for breakfast, lunch and sometimes dinner because Thai people hate waste and don’t like frozen food. We got the chance to ride in a tuk tuk for the first time which was so much fun because of the novelty and the welcoming breeze!
We drove to the bicycle shop and then cycled to the Sukothai temples and Buddha monuments. Constructed in 1238, Sukothai is known as the first kingdom of Thailand and has influenced a lot of Thai language, art and religion. King Ramkhamhaeng reigned in Sukothai and is the creator of the Thai alphabet, Sukothai was eventually taken over by Ayuthaya.
We followed Nok all around the park and stopped at various Buddha monuments. We cycled to the manager of the bike shop’s house and his daughter cooked lunch for us but on the way we saw a small dead snake with blood coming out of it by the side of the road! On arrival, we stepped into an ice cold air conditioned room after being out in the sticky heat which was the best feeling ever! We were presented with the best meal from the trip, as most home cooked meals are – Massaman potato and chicken curry, jasmine rice, deep fried chicken wings, baby corn prawn salad, pork and ginger stir fry and ginger tofu. We all tucked in and had second helpings.
We didn’t know that we’d be getting dessert – lady finger bananas (they fit perfectly in the palm of your hand) and a sugary deep fried sweet doughnut like dessert with mushed up mung bean in the centre, pronounced ‘look toy’ I ended up eating three!
After lunch we thanked our hosts and cycled to a Thai food market where we got to try Rambutan and Durian fruit. Rambutan is often described as being similar to a lychee. It has a red and green spiky exterior and a soft white flesh with a stone inside. Durian is a bumpy, swampy green colour and it has a smooth custard-like taste with a similar consistency to Avocado. It develops a pungent smell and is banned in hotels in Thailand because of it. We also came across Century Eggs, also known as ‘thousand year old eggs’ which are bright pink in colour. These eggs are preserved for several weeks or months using a process that combines clay, ash, salt, quicklime and rice hulls. Nok said they are quite smelly and as they were packaged we couldn’t smell them nor did I fancy trying them!
After returning the bikes and another short tuk tuk ride back to the hotel, we all headed to the pool to cool off. Sarah, Anna and Freddy asked if I fancied going for a foot massage and it didn’t take much to persuade me. I felt so relaxed from the massage that I fell asleep and woke myself up snoring! After a relaxing shower we all jumped on tuk tuks back to the local town and had a craving for western food. We spotted a little place that sold some, we ordered so much food ranging from cheese sticks, French fries, pizza and garlic bread as well as lots of Thai beer and cocktails. Alex used a selfie stick for the first time and got a really good shot of us all. We had a really good night comparing and tasting the ‘western style’ food. The garlic bread was by far the worst as it tasted sweet! When we left the restaurant there were no tuk tuks to be seen so Hannah negotiated a ride with some restaurant workers in the back of their SUV for 100 BAHT for us all. When we got back to the resort, we opened the adjoining door and had some beers and chat before bed.
Today we met Nok’s mum and dad as Nok is from Sukothai, they have a museum in their house and they make jewellery from popped rice blocks, when polished with sand paper they become black and shiny resembling an onyx. We set off further up north to our home stay destination. We took a mini-van for the best part of the day and I had a really nice iced coffee from a Thai chain called Amazon. Most of the day was spent in the van with air-con blasting. We ate lunch at a really nice stop, originally I wasn’t hungry but I had a small portion of chicken and cashews with rice and a pineapple smoothie which was so refreshing. We stopped off at the ‘Friends of the Asian Elephant Hospital’ which is the first elephant hospital in the world. They do great things there to help elephants who were once used for elephant riding and entertainment and they support one of the elephants who lost her leg due to her stepping on a land mine. Prosthetic legs have been made for her and we got to learn a bit about the good work they are doing in the hospital near Lampang in Thailand. When we arrived at the home stay we were met by Aoi and her family. Most Thai houses are on stilts where they sleep upstairs and people often work from their home in the open-plan environment. We had some time chilling out and checking out our shared sleeping space which had lots of fans which was perfect as it was so hot! The evening meal and entertainment that Aoi put on for us was incredible. First of all we got a mini cookery lesson from Aoi and her daughter Amy on how to make the perfect accompanying curry paste to a minced chicken dish which involved using the pestle and mortar to crush up all the ingredients. Our home cooked meal that they put on for us consisted of meat and vegetarian delicacies, the tempura pumpkin was to die for as well as an egg dish in curry sauce and the rice cakes for dessert (called khaotan) were delicious to finish, all the while we were entertained by Amy and her family, there is nothing that girl can’t do! We had music on the xylophone, an instrument with 2 strings similar to the violin and the wee boys were playing guitar. We got the chance to have a go on the instruments ourselves and we received a mini Thai massage each from Pa-Tong which means aunty in Thai. We were then treated to some dancing by the young girls where they wore the most beautiful traditional outfits and the young boys did a sword dance for us. We were looked after well and we were all really hot and tired, so most of us had a ‘Thai style’ cold shower before bed. We all had mosquito nets above our beds that we tucked in under our mattresses on the floor. We heard some interesting noises in the night, when described to Nok she said it was an insect similar to a cricket called a cicada.
10.08.17, Day 6 – Home-stay to Chiang Mai
Today I braved another cold shower ‘Thai style’ and then tucked into the lush spread of food our home stay family had prepared for us – French toast, dragon fruit, pineapple, watermelon and fried rice. We then set off on a cycle around the rice fields, learning about how rice is made along the way. We stopped at Pa-Tong’s house (who gave us our massage the night before), she demonstrated how to separate the rice grain from the rusk and we all got to have a go trying out the man-made machine that they use and the circular instrument they shake to speedily get any loose bits of rusk off. We then cycled to meet workers in the rice fields and the hilly scenery was glorious to cycle through, I had many a pinch myself moment.
It was then back to the home-stay where we had an early lunch of the most delicious foods yet again, sticky jasmine rice, tempura corn and green beans, coconut chicken curry, potato curry and ginger chicken spicy curry, it was tremendous! We boarded a Songthaew (like a bigger version of a tuk tuk with a roof where our bags were kept but open at the sides to let in the cool air) for the 45 minute journey to Chiang Mai. We had a couple of hours where we rested up and it was great to have a hot shower again, then we all decided to go to the Wat Phra That Doi Suthep Temple on the top of the hill overlooking Chiang Mai. The journey up there in the mini-van made me feel a bit sick due to the altitude and then you have the choice of taking the stairs or cable car. I took the stairs thinking there’d be loads to climb but there wasn’t. I had a wee ice cream when I got to the top while waiting for some of the others coming up in the cable car. The temple is one of the most sacred in Northern Thailand, established in 1383 by a shard of bone broken in two, the bone was carried by a white elephant and at the spot it died the temple was formed. It rained for the first time since arriving in Thailand and it was quite a downpour but it didn’t last long but came on sporadically throughout the evening. We took off our shoes to enter the main part of the temple which was full of gold decorations and Buddha statues. Gavin hung a little bell which had all our names from the group attached to it for good luck as an offering to the temple. Nok said it will eventually be melted down and used to make more Buddha images. We sat inside one of the temples and received a blessing and a bracelet from a monk, Nok told us to keep it on until it falls off, for good luck. As we walked around the temple there were puddles from the rain that we walked through in our bare feet which actually felt quite nice. It’s respectable to cover your knees and shoulders in temples. We waited until about 6:10pm to hear the monks chanting, it was a really lovely experience. Back in the centre of Chiang Mai we went to a cool bar/restaurant in the heart of the night market that had a rock band on that were really talented. They did a mix of Western and Thai food, Gavin, Sarah and I had the Thai burger on Nok’s recommendation which was packed full of chillies, I felt like I could breathe fire afterwards it was so hot but I was determined to finish it! I had a ‘Sex in Thai’ cocktail that was really sour! Sarah had a tequila rose cocktail that was really tasty so I opted for that from then on. We then decided to go to the Lady Boys show nearby which was good fun and you got a a drink included in the price of your ticket. The Rihanna impersonator was amazing and she took a guy up on stage and then later on they asked for 3 volunteers to dress up as Lady Boys which was really funny. Another fun packed varied day.
This morning Hannah led the way in enrolling everyone except Sarah and I to do ‘Flight of the Gibbons,’ a zip line assault course in the jungle, just under an hours drive outside Chiang Mai. It was a 6:30am start for them but I started my day with a lie in until 8am. I then met Sarah about 9am and we had a wee stroll to the French bakery that Nok had told us about that was only 5 minutes walk from the hotel. We each got excited about all the pastries and bread on offer. I had a latté and a sweet brioche bun which both tasted amazing!
We had a leisurely breakfast followed by a walk to Warorot market which is a large indoor market selling everything you can imagine! We actually hadn’t intended on going to any market in particular but Nok told us that the main shopping area and markets were all together and we would pass the flower market on the way, except all the streets and stalls all started to look identical after a while and no matter who we asked, we couldn’t seem to locate the flower market. We wanted to buy flowers for Nok as the following day was Mother’s Day in Thailand and we wanted to thank her for being our ‘mother’ on the trip. Nevertheless, Warorot market had a flower stall so we were in luck. There are red Songthaews everywhere in Chiang Mai, so we got the attention of one of the drivers and showed him the map that Nok had given us to navigate Chiang Mai, however he got a bit lost and had to stop twice to ask for directions but we got there in the end! We then went for an aromatherapy oil massage just located round the corner from the hotel, it was pure heaven and has taken me up to my third massage this week in Thailand! Afterwards I chilled out and went for a shower to get off the oil from the massage, I have to keep applying sun cream and mosquito spray to avoid sunburn and bites which makes you feel pretty sticky in the 32 – 35°c humidity! The others returned from their morning zip lining and by 4pm it was time to head on our half day cooking class which consisted of some shopping at a food market a little outside Chiang Mai. We were joined by Ailsa and Johnny, (23 and 21 years old) who study Medicine at Dundee University and were travelling South East Asia for a month.
We went to Baan Hongnual Cookery School and I loved the set-up. We each had our own work area and individual cast iron gas hob for our pot and wok. We were making a coconut chicken soup, a choice between Pad Thai with prawns or chicken, either Massaman chicken and potato curry or Thai green curry with aubergines and we all observed the melon and sweet sticky rice being made, with palm sugar adding most of the sweetness to the sticky rice. Gavin and I each went for the different Pad Thai options with me choosing the chicken and I chose to make the Massaman curry. Little did I know though, that in Pad Thai, dried shrimp is added and they still have their tiny black eyes which just totally put me off so our teacher allowed us to grate carrot to give the same orange effect! The cooking class was the best thing I’ve done so far on the trip and we got a recipe book each to take home which I can’t wait to use at home and in my future home economics lessons.
When we arrived back into town we had a wander round the night market and I bought a few vests including a Starbucks one, a 7/11 vest and one with a dream catcher on it. The Aussies kept teasing me about the 7/11 one as they have the shops in Australia too! We met at Thai Euro again, same as yesterday evening and it turned into quite a few drinks. Hannah and Freddy had gone to get tattoos – a mocking bird just above her ribs and Freddy got a sea horse on her ankle and Alex went with them too so they missed the cooking class. I started on a Mai Tai but quickly moved back on to the tequila rose cocktail. The rock band were on again and they played so many good songs from Metallica to Led Zeppelin. Hannah then invented a shot she called ‘the lady boy kiss’ in which she added peach schnapps, Bacardi, Malibu and sugar syrup. We had a great night laughing and drinking. We had quite a few of the shots and we had built up quite a bar bill that they decided to give us a free round of shots and decided to add the shot to the menu! We all headed back to the hotel in a tipsy happy state.
The lead singer of the Thai rock band
Day 8, 12.08.17 – Chiang Mai to Bangkok on the night train
Today I slept late and didn’t leave the hotel until gone 10am. We all met at the French bakery which was becoming a bit of a habit of mine as I went two more times that day! I had very delicious Scotch pancake sized pancakes but they were the consistency of American style pancakes, accompanied by mixed fruit, they were scrummy. Gavin and Arné decided to go for a traditional Thai massage which can be quite painful. Nok told me that if you buy a drink you can use the pool at the hotel round the corner from our hotel which was an opportunity I decided to take up. I had a very delicious coconut iced smoothie which cooled me down a bit.
I headed back to the hotel to say goodbye to Hannah and Alex and we all waved them off. Sarah, Anna, Arné, Gavin and I all headed back to the pool and chilled out, I went for a mango smoothie this time. We all decided to stock up on food for the over-night train so it was back to the French bakery for a Parma ham and Emmenthel cheese sandwich for me and that’s when I realised that the French bakery was actually quite expensive! We headed to Chiang Mai train station to board our over-night train which actually looked quite comfortable, Nok explained that the carriages had been updated in November 2016.
I’d seen on a TV programme with Ed Byrne and Dara O’Brien that they’d taken the night train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai and their train had bright blue hospital-like curtains. Our train had gold curtains and red fabric seats, it looked quite regal! We sat on our seats for a wee while and I watched the Hangover two (which I’d downloaded from Netflix) which I thought was quite apt as we were on our way to Bangkok. The train staff transform your seats into bunk beds and you can ask them to come back a little later if you want to continue sitting for a little while – they have the transformation process from seat to bed down to a fine art. Once my bed was made I felt quite tired and snuggled under my blanket and my pillow was really comfy. I fell asleep at about 10:30pm and only woke up because the train had stopped at about 03:30am but I very quickly got back to sleep until about 05:30am when the announcement was made that the train would be arriving soon.
Today we were back at The Nouvo City Hotel in Bangkok where we had begun our journey 8 days before. Today was very chilled out, a nice hot shower after the night train and then a quick chill out at the pool area to look-up our Lonely Planet guide on what to do in Bangkok. I really fancied a trip on the water and I’d have liked to have gone to one of the floating markets but they seemed to be too far away and an early start is recommended as it can be crowded in the afternoon. Gavin and I decided to wander down to the boat stop where we’d seen the white fort the week before. We decided that we wanted to go to Lumphini park where you can see the big meteor lizards. The book had said that the boats can be quite busy but our boat had lots of room and seats available. By the time we’d set sail on the river it became apparent that there were all kinds of different boats, some more packed with people than others. The boat took some time to get to our stop but it was nice and leisurely floating along the river.
When we arrived we were met by a coffee shop called Tom n Tom and I immediately wanted an iced coffee but was shocked at how expensive it was. At the equivalent to £3.50 each, it was the most expensive coffee I’d purchased all trip, but it turned out it was part of a fancy looking shopping centre. There was a weekend food market on and cute little colourful elephant statues dotted around.
We started walking towards Lumphini park and the streets looked quite desoloute. A Thai man in very stylish yellow and pink attire with Harry Potter style rounded glasses approached us and asked us where we were going and if we were looking for advice on where to go. He seemed quite friendly and spoke English well. When we told him that we wanted to go to Lumphini park he said it was only open in the morning and was closed now. He said we should take a tuk tuk to the sleeping Buddha and then on to some shopping at a designer shopping mall nearby. We took his advice and hopped on a tuk tuk that had flashing lights in the back.
The Buddhas were really close-by and the tuk tuk driver also informed us that Lumphini park was closed so we decided just to head back to the boat as we didn’t want to go shopping. This time we got a really cheap boat at 28 Baht but it was super crowded with a lot of petrol fumes.
When we got back we chilled by the pool-side before meeting our new recruits for the south leg of the trip. We met Bec, 22 from Brisbane who is going over to travel Europe then South America after her stint in Thailand. There was Florian, 36 from Cologne in Germany and his friend Andreas, 35 also from Germany but now lives in Belgium, they both work as lawyers. Libby, 21 from London but she studies Music at York University. Mark 63 and Kim, 56 are from Melbourne, Mark is a retired primary school teacher and Kim currently works in domestic violence prevention, they have done several intrepid trips before. We ended up going to the same restaurant we had gone to on our first night meeting for the North leg of the trip except we sat outside this time. The 6 of us from the North leg intertwined our seats with the newcomers and got to know them a little better.
John, the dog from the first night, was there again but he was safely kept in the air conned room.
Some people headed home for an earlyish night, Anna, Arne, Gavin and I fancied another drink so we headed to Khaosan Road and got to experience it in full swing party mode with music blaring as it was about 10pm. With the average age of 30 between us, neither of us fancied that so we headed to the bar across from the hotel for a nightcap before bed.
Khaosan Road in full swing, was too much for us
Day 10, 14.08.17 – Bangkok then night train to Chumphon Province
Today was our last day in Bangkok and we set off early to check out Wat Pho which houses the largest reclining Buddha in Bangkok and contains the most Buddha images in the whole of Thailand. We spent a nice morning at the temple wandering around and taking photos. We saw quite a few monks and Nok explained that in a man’s life he can become a monk 3 times. Monks eat two meals a day and help the communities they live in. Nok said that married men with families can become monks but they must take a vow of chastity and can’t live with their families for the time they decide to do that but can then go back to their families afterwards. Nok said that boys as young as 7 can become monks. It was a very hot morning and we all took turns to use Nok’s fan for relief. We also observed a lady restoring one of the buddhas by removing all the gold until the Buddha is black then restoring it by hand with gold leaves. After Wat Pho, Gavin and I had considered going to Wat Phra Kaew (The Grand Palace), where you can see the emerald Buddha and it is the former home of the Thai monarch.
Even though the weather was very overcast, the heat was unbearably hot and we’d heard that you can be waiting in queues for hours on end so Gavin and I negotiated a tuk tuk and set off back to the hotel. We headed over the road to a bar/cafe where I had a tasty vegetarian breakfast washed down with a banana yoghurt smoothie. We then chilled out at the pool for the rest of the day with me hiding under an umbrella as I couldn’t bear the heat. We boarded the over-night train at about 18:30pm but we didn’t end up leaving until 20:10pm. It soon became apparent that we were on the old style train with the clinical looking blue curtains on the windows and beds, however we didn’t appear to have any curtains covering our window. We later were able to negotiate an extra sheet to cover the window. I decided to head for a cup of tea which was an eye-opening experience compared to the train from Chiang Mai. There were people sitting in the carriage before the cafe in seats that didn’t turn into beds, all the windows were open as there was no air-con. I was given a small cup of tea with a sachet of powdered milk and no lid. As I made my way back to my seat, I was trying to stop my tea from spilling while trying not to fall out the open doors between carriages as the train travelled at full pelt. I started watching the TV Series ‘Girl Boss’ which I’d downloaded from Netflix when we’d had semi-good wifi in Bangkok.
Day 11, 15.08.17 – Koh Pitak Home Stay
I awoke from a pretty pleasant sleep (Nok told us we should sleep with our legs facing the direction the train is going). We disembarked the train in a bit of a harassed way as I remembered there was talk of having to walk through water to get to the boat to take us to our home stay on tiny island Koh Pitak. Thus I began looking for my flip flops as I’d been wearing trainers. Just then the train abruptly stopped and we had to get off! I was getting my backpack stuck between the tiny aisles of the train but luckily I made it off in time! The first glimpse of the islands in the South made for spectacular viewing.
We didn’t have to walk in the sea, the water was shallow and a few people had to get out and push the tiny boat to set us off. It was a short journey to Koh Pitak, we’d all given Nok some money so she could buy some breakfast items at the local market and we all ate breakfast in the home stay house which was built on stilts over the water with the most glorious view of the mainland and the sea.
A delicious discovery at breakfast was sticky rice and custard wrapped in a banana leaf called Khan Tom. After breakfast Arne, Libby, Anna, Freddy, Flo, Andreas, Gavin and I decided to hire kayaks. The kayaks were for 2 people and we kayaked right the whole way around the small island, stopping off at a secluded beach on the mainland for a swim. The kayaking was quite hard work and when we were pushing the kayak back on to dry land, Nok warned us of a big jelly fish floating nearby, I had totally forgot about the dangers of box jelly fish but Nok reassured me that it wasn’t a box jelly fish but not to go near it anyway. The rest of the afternoon was a relaxing one, we had a lovely lunch prepared for us by the host family which consisted mostly of fresh seafood. I’m not the biggest lover of seafood but the flavours of the Thai spices in the fish soup they prepared was delicious . The rest of the day was spent walking firstly around the island with Becs then up to a viewing point and passed the statue of the Buddha at the beach with Gavin. The steps were very un-even and steep and we saw fruit growing on a tree at the top.
That night we had a lovely dinner prepared for us by our host family and we all turned in pretty early that evening. We had pink pop-up mosquito nets that looked like something you would use to cover a cake to stop the flies getting to it.
Day 12, 16.08.17 – Chumphon
This morning we left our small island retreat and headed back to the mainland. Only this time we were all out in the water as the tiny boat had run aground. The sand was pretty murky and we all had to wash our feet at a nearby tap. Today we headed to a toilet museum with all different types of themed toilet, which was very random and I got to try ‘kopi luwak’ which is an Indonesian coffee made from coffee berries eaten by and then egested by a cat-like animal called a palm civet. It’s a delicacy and therefore it is quite expensive. I however wasn’t brave enough to order my own cup but instead had a sip of someone else’s!
We then travelled to Prince Chumphon’s shrine as well as Khao Matsee lookout point. At the top they were selling bird’s nest soup which is another Asian delicacy, made from the nests of the sea swift bird, taken from hillside caves in Southern Thailand and sold for a pretty penny because it is said to promote good health and long life. Needless to say, I didn’t fancy trying it!
Nok, however had bought some fried banana which I couldn’t get enough of, they were so moreish! The viewpoint was really lovely and we got to have a nice group photo together and Sarah, Freddy and I posed beside some monkey figurines with the islands in the background.
For the rest of the day we all relaxed in our rooms for a bit before heading out for an evening meal. The hotel we were staying in felt quite secluded and was a stones throw away from the beautiful beach front where I took a beautiful photo of the palm trees which can only be described as paradise.
After dinner Nok let us try some local fruit – Mangosteen (the round dark purple & green one) and Salacca, also known as ‘snake fruit’ because of its snake like exterior.
Day 13, 17.08.17 – Chumphon Snorkelling Trip
I started the day with a yoga session that Anna kindly led for Becs and I on the beautiful stretch of secluded sand (pictured above). We were the only ones there except for a few stray dogs and a man who decided to go for a morning dip.
After a lovely breakfast at the hotel, we headed on a day long snorkelling trip and were joined by some other groups of travellers. There was tea, coffee, snacks and lunch provided on the boat. After my first go at snorkelling, I felt a strange sensation on my foot. I’d been stung and so had a couple of other people. Nok and the crew gave us some vinegar to take away the sting. We got a bit of snorkelling in before the weather turned stormy. It was amazing to see the fish so clearly. I swam back to the boat before the rain was at its worst.
That night we ate at a restaurant where there were quite a few stray dogs about and they kept going in and out under the table. I was quite scared of the dogs before going to Thailand, but they largely leave you alone and are only a danger if they break your skin and there were people on the tour who were playing with and petting the dogs which I was surprised by but it didn’t seem to do them any harm! We kept the restaurant very busy that night as we were all in the mood for cocktails.
Day 14, 18.08.17 – Koh Tao
We left our Chumphon resort bright and early for the ferry to Koh Tao. Kim and I needed a caffeine fix and the line for the ferry was at a standstill, so we took the opportunity to grab some coffees. Just as we were edging to the front of the coffee queue, the line for the ferry began to move. Poor Gavin and Mark had to struggle with their luggage and ours. We made it back to the line in the nick of time, coffee in tow! We were told by the crew to place our rucksacks in a pile, only ours were right at the bottom of the pile and I couldn’t see us successfully retrieving in, especially as ours wasn’t the last stop! I needn’t have worried though as the crew had the bag retrieval down to a fine art. There are so many people who want to experience all the Thai islands have to offer and it took quite a while to get off the boat.
Once we arrived, the afternoon was spent checking out what Koh Tao has to offer and generally having a chilled out day. Koh Tao is famous for its diving, with dive schools everywhere. We fancied a game of mini golf and went to play the course complete with a mini Golden Gate Bridge. We also took a stroll on the beach back to the hotel.
Koh Tao’s sunset was absolutely breathtaking and the majority of us headed to a fire show on the beach. It was a really chilled out evening with cushions to sit on and little tables. Some people in the group even took part as volunteers in the fire show!
Day 15, 19.08.17 – Koh Tao
We went on another snorkelling trip today which was really good fun and I think we saw more fish compared with the last trip. There were also people scuba-diving and our boat had a shoot on the top deck whereby water was poured on it and everyone was having a go sliding into the water.
On route back to Koh Tao we stopped at Nang Yuan Island, Gav and Becs headed up to the lookout point whereas Sarah, Anna and I just chilled with a drink. Once back on the boat, the sea began to get really choppy and the boat was rocking from side to side with water splashing on to the deck, everyone began putting life jackets on and there was a real sense of fear in the air. I’ve never been so happy to see dry land!
That evening Nok, Sarah and I really fancied Italian so we headed to Farango Pizzeria whilst the others headed in the pursuit of a seafood restaurant. I had the pizza, Nok had a spicy seafood pasta dish and Sarah had the chorizo sausages, each accompanied by a nice glass of white wine.
Day 16 & 17 (20.08.17) (21.08.17)- Koh Samui
We took another boat to Koh Tao’s big sister island, Koh Samui, staying in the super classy Samui Palm Beach Resort which was by far the best place we’d stayed at. There was talk of an optional day trip to Ang Thong National Marine Park but we all felt the need for a bit of rest and relaxation time so the next few days were consumed by sunbathing, cocktails, strolls on the beach, Thai massages and a morning yoga session for Becs, Anna and I led by the hotel’s own instructor.
We got a Songthaew out to Koh Samui’s main strip where there was a lot going on and all the main big brands of American bars and restaurants were represented i.e. McDonald’s, Hard Rock Cafe, Hooters etc. We checked out the markets and bought a couple of pairs of sunglasses and I bought a new phone case.
The next day was our last day which we spent by chilling with each other by the pool and heading out for our last evening meal together at a Thai restaurant.
Day 18, 22.08.17 – Koh Samui – Bangkok – Sydney
On leaving day we were the first to leave. Our flight was at 9am so we said our goodbyes the night before. Most of our group were staying on in Koh Samui for an extra few days. Koh Samui airport is so lush and green, it’s quite small and all outdoors and the hotel made us up a packed lunch for breakfast so we sat outside at one of the tables to eat it before boarding. The airport also had complimentary coffee and pastries which I thought was really good as most of the shops were closed at that time in the morning.
It was on to pastures new, a long stopover at Suvarnabhumi airport in Bangkok before boarding our flight to Australia for our year long adventure. We had the most amazing time discovering all Thailand had to offer in just under 3 weeks. Thanks to Nok, Intrepid and our new friends that we met on our South East Asia adventure.