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Thailand - February 2007

All prices in Thailand were in Baht, which is what we used, although US$ were widely accepted.
For ease of conversion 1 GBP= 64.50 THB


We had planned to go to Thailand for over 3 years but as it happened it wasn’t until a few months ago that things fell into place and we finally booked to go. We left for Thailand on 2nd February from Heathrow on Thai Airways. It was worth the wait.

We landed in Bangkok, and we stayed here for the ½ day that we arrived, and the following day, at the Amari Atrium Hotel – we loved it although it was a bit too far out from the action – approx a 10min walk to the metro, or a 50p taxi ride. Tip – always always get a ‘Taxi Meter’ and make sure it’s turned on, and that includes the trip from the airport. Go downstairs in BKK airport, to the taxi rank – ½ or less of the price of the touts upstairs.

First night we went to Face restaurant in Sukhumvit and it was just absolutely amazing, even if getting there with a taxi driver who spoke no English and read no romanized Thai wasn’t! It is a traditional teak house with lots of nice features; set in a little garden with ponds, walkways and candles everywhere. There are two restaurants, Thai (which we went to twice) and Indian, and a spa on the premises – beautiful, great ambience, recommended restaurant - the atmosphere being so contrastingly relaxing to the Bangkok outside you could forget where you were. Expensive by Thai prices, although not by English ones, at £30+ for a meal for two with drinks. Chicken red curry was our favourite.

Our first and only full day in BKK we did the usual sights, taking a tuk-tuk – because as a ‘farang’ it’s expected – to the Grand Palace (packed, and the sun was in all the wrong places in the morning), Wat Pho (reclining Buddha), and Wat Arun. All nice enough, but as usual with these things it can be the places without the tourists being bussed-in which are best. We jumped onto the boat-taxi down to Tha Rachawong pier, and walked to and around Chinatown – a place filled with stuff you didn’t know you didn’t want. Hands on your valuables here – with no exaggeration there will be times when you have no choice but to be moved along in a sea of moving people, and woe betide anyone who falls down or wants to change direction; an experience.For a more relaxed shopping environment without fried fish, we looked through the Silom, Central and Siam Paragon shopping malls – empty and brand new, expensive but you get security checks on entry. Went to the smaller mall down the road – packed and older, no security checks and toilets were 2p but hey you win some you lose some! Picked up some clothes for a few £, and lunch for even less.

We took the 6pm start for the sunset, although the smog in Bangkok is awful. The food was frankly not all that great; if you want to do this choose the Traditional Thai Menu not the seafood one. At £25 per person (with drinks) we wouldn’t do it again, but if you’re stuck for an evening you do get to see the sights up and down the river. We were going to go to Sirocco / State Tower for drinks, but having a 4am wake-up call for our flight to Cambodia we decided against!



We arrived back in Bangkok midday, and went straight to the station where we left our luggage. We really couldn’t face walking around looking for a decent restaurant, so went to, um, Face, again! We had the place all to ourselves, but a word of warning - the barman doesn’t work till the evening. Thus our waitress seemed to get confused as to the amounts to pour for the drink and the mixer… :-) add Bangkok heat = merry lunch! Funnily enough we didn’t feel the need to explore Bangkok more, so took it easy till our 1900-0900 train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. The train was full, a mixture of Thais and backpackers, with an American school trip thrown in for good measure. We went for a “1st class” compartment, which was clean and adequate, and once they turned the seat into bunkbeds with clean sheets etc, a nice way to save on a flight/hotel fee, although there isn’t as much scenery to see as we’d have liked. We’d do it again only if it was convenient – 12 hours was a long time. Oh, and skip the train breakfast, unless your idea of tasty is soggy and lukewarm.

After our gruelling train journey finally arrived in Chiang Mai, we were picked up from the train station, whizzed through the city and headed to Baan Rai village for 3 nights. The hotel (well hardly – only 6 bungalows to the resort) was called Baan Rai Lanna and it is approximately 1 hour away from Chiang Mai. It is an absolutely delightful hideaway! We had the resort to ourselves for 2 nights and on the last night shared it with only 1 other guest!!! The staff were incredibly helpful, and include an on-site masseuse… :-) The resort and the area are very relaxing and picturesque. They have mountain bikes available with a map of the local area and villages. We twice went for bike rides, and they turned out to be a highlight of the whole trip – despite being in the middle of nowhere, we felt safe and even explored some poor guy’s banana grove (by accident).
We also organised a tour to the Karen Long Neck tribe –which turned out to be the human zoo as expected - and Lang Dao cave – ok but nothing great. We would have preferred to have staying at the resort to enjoy the birds and mountain scenery from the infinity pool – which by the way, if you go in you are braver than me. We were a bit worried about the food as you are kind of stranded in the resort but the food was very reasonably priced and extremely tasty. One evening we ordered whiskey with sprite for 200Bht assuming that we would get a shot but oh no they brought us a whole bottle of local whiskey!!! Every evening we strolled down to the restaurant with a bottle of whiskey, not the most romantic look I agree! ;-)

After 3 very relaxing nights in the north we flew to Phuket, and having missed the last boat to Phi Phi had to book a hotel in Kata. I specifically chose this area after endless reading on TA/Fodors - most of the people say Kata beach is the most relaxed place. I beg to differ! We felt we were on the Spanish Costa – all leather tans and gold chains. The place was absolutely full of tourists, and generally the type who make you ashamed. Suffice to say as were we using the net in our hotel reception a number of overweight Westerners came in to book a room by the hour with their newly found Thai girlfriends. We knew that we will see this occasionally but quite frankly it was shocking to see to what extent this has come to - I don’t even want to start imagining what Patong must look like! Each to their own, but there was nothing to suggest this was Thailand – and even the local Thais here didn’t have their famous friendliness, especially compared to up North. Discussing this with a few backpackers we met, we came to the same opinion it was probably a reflection of who they had to deal with. It’s hard to judge Phuket on such a short trip – the scenery to the North was brilliant and the area seemed better, but the whole feel of Kata was everything but relaxing and a far cry from the Thai experience we went for.

After Phuket we spent another 3 night on Phi Phi Island in Phi Phi Villa resort (basic, overpriced, “room cleaning on request”) and we were equally disappointed. The scenery is breathtaking but the whole place is so busy and loud, although to be fair we did arrive at the height of the day-tripper invasion. Everyday we made our way as far as possible from our hotel, which was located at the end of the Ton Sai Bay build-up. We found a secluded little cove, about 30mins walk through jungle, where we relaxed and were finally able to enjoy Phi Phi Island. Perhaps this sounds negative, but when your expectation is for perfection I guess you’re bound to be a little disappointed. The scenery of the Island is however amazing, and in hindsight we should have stayed further away from the crowds. The upside was the pancake lady outside Phi Phi Villa resort – £0.30 for her pancakes for breakfast was the best option by a long shot. And see if you can spot her kid – she’s the cute one!

We hired a private long tail boat to take us to Maya Bay - and were very happy to find out that we were the first ones to arrive! Mind you we did leave at 07:00 – but to be on ‘The Beach’ by ourselves was spectacular, and a real treat on Valentine’s Day! We enjoyed a whole hour of quietness and bliss; we left as soon as the first tourist boats started to arrive; I am very impressed that the place is still so beautiful and untouched after the never-ending raids of tourists, even if there is a snack-shop there.

We finished off in the Krabi area for 4 nights, staying at The Cliff resort, which was surprisingly on a main road, although this wasn’t an issue. This is a beautiful, intimate resort, although initially we were a bit apprehensive here as the rooms are not all that private, although you get used to it.
Ao Nang and the Krabi area had, by far, the most impressive and stunning scenery, palm trees and limestone cliffs/rock-formations. Ao Nang, although still a bit commercialised, was much better alternative to Phuket. And I bet if we ventured down to Ko Lanta we would have found the Thailand that we experienced in the north. We did a few trips to Railey Beach, Phrang Nhang Cave beach and Koh Poda Island – long tail boats (fixed prices) run fairly frequently to most places. We also went on a tour that comprised an elephant track through jungle and rivers, and a hike up to Tiger Temple. To be precise you have to climb exactly 1250 steps - we made it, an achievement you can only really appreciate if you’ve tried it yourself! The views are, as expected, amazing from the top and it gives you a real sense of achievement ;-) … can you believe that my husband & I were the only people from the tour who climbed up there? Everyone else simply could not be bothered… ! Well, they just had to wait at the bottom for the hour it took us – which we’re told is a respectable time!

To sum up we had a fantastic time in Thailand & Cambodia. It always seems like a cliché, but the people we met were just amazing and so friendly; we have a lot to learn from them. Whether it was the school kids laughing and chasing us as we rode by, or the old shopkeeper who then offered us a bed in his house because we looked too tired to make it to our village before sunset, it was a rare experience to feel genuine warmth from strangers. Although some places didn’t live up to our expectations, there were some places that totally surprised us; it is all an experience and I think that’s what travelling is about.

ps we loved the food!