A land full of sand, sparkling beaches and Buddhist temples. We were promised a clean sea, excellent cuisine and saved money. Will we get what we came for? And was it actually this? You will find out.
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It pays to buy tickets well in advance. We bought them two months in advance and it cost a lot of money. Depending on where you are flying from, you can buy either direct or connecting tickets. If I could choose again, I would always choose direct flights even for more money. You don't have to do the annoying change of plane, queue, and more importantly, it's much shorter. We flew with Eva Air from Vienna to Taipei for about 11 hours. There is an hour and a half transfer to another 4 hour flight. The journey back is another 2 hours longer and a few hours longer on the transfer.
Thailand has a few seasons to avoid. The first of them starts in September and ends in November. It is the rainy season and it rains very often and for a long time here. The second period is summer, i.e. June to August, when it is again, unbearably hot. The period around Christmas and the turn of the year seems ideal. Airline tickets start to become significantly more expensive around Christmas, so choose flights up to December 15th.
And for how long? For as long as possible! I would have spent at least two weeks in Thailand, but we were here for a whole month. And what to do here all month? I will leave the layout of the days up to each of you. If you're looking for culture, the sea or coffee.
The epicenter of everything. The huge concentration of people, cultures and people has created a place where you can find absolutely everything. It's not just endless markets and brothels with "lady boys" (think of it as a man with feminine qualities, often prettier than the local women, but with a extra thing). It's a place where you can eat well, taste first-class coffee, find your way to local cultures, but also spend a lot of money on nonsense and get drawn into bars that never sleep.
Arriving at the huge airport in BKK is the first place you burn economically. It's a vicious circle that you're bound to lose. You will need a taxi to get to the hotel cheaply. We drove with the Thai Uber, the Grab application. For this you will need a SIM card with data and a Thai number. You can only buy this with cash at the airport, so you have to exchange your money for local BAHT. But the exchange rate at the airport will not make you happy, on the contrary, it will make you sad. However, you can't buy a sim card without BAHT, and without a sim card... well, just a circle.
So I recommend only changing for a taxi or withdrawing from an ATM. This one has a one-time fee of I think 220 BAHT, so it pays off when withdrawing larger amounts. Then it depends on the exchange rate of your bank.
Once you get into the perfectly cooled taxi, it will take you about 40 minutes to get to the center. And there comes the key advice regarding accommodation. Always stay as close to the center as possible. What you pay for a more expensive hotel will be returned to you a hundred times over in all that time and money for transportation. We got burned like that a few times and never again.
Bangkok is divided into many parts. After all, it is a city where millions of people live. The regular tourist center is fairly obvious and can be handled in 25 minutes on a TukTuk from one side to the other. I would logically divide it into 3 or 4 parts. On the lower left are the temples and Chinatown. Top left Khao San and mass tourism. Business class and department stores on the bottom right and basically nothing at all on the top right.
Ok, so now we have place to sleep, we can move our finger on the map, so where to eat? Bangkok is a place with unlimited dining options in Michelin restaurants. There are up to 10 of those with stars, but on every corner you will discover a place that is at least in the guidebook. They are places where you can eat for 100 or even 10000 BAHT. The best restaurants are booked weeks in advance. A few places that are definitely worth it in the sheet at the end of the article and on the map.
How about a drink? Thailand is a very expensive place for alcohol lovers. The consumption tax on alcohol here is probably almost the same as in Norway, so you can buy a normal beer in a restaurant for 130 BAHT. I'm not even talking about hard alcohol and wine. As one funny picture says, “No, I prefer rice.” But I believe that there are places in Bangkok that are worth visiting. But I didn't look for them.
Buddha. He will meet you at every corner, in every greeting, in every thank you. You will also meet his variously sized selves in countless temples. It is not possible to visit all of them. We managed two large temples in the southwest of the center. First, The Grand Palace is a tourist must, where you first encounter all the rules, prohibitions and crowds of tourists. Longer pants and covered shoulders should be worn in such tourist-frequented places. They will gladly sell you everything you need in the shops around the palace. The prices are symbolic, but it costs something. In other places they tend to be more benevolent. We probably liked the temple around the "reclining Buddha" more. It is the one that is right below the Grand Palace.
What to watch out for in Bangkok? To not be trapped there. It is a place of unlimited possibilities, diversity. It is very easy to dislike Bangkok, but also to love it. I recommend caution and patience with pushy sellers of anything. And don't forget to bargain for the TukTuk price. But you know how fun it is? Well, how long in Bangkok? I think you won't have anything to do after 5 days. We divided the visit into a part immediately after the arrival and, just in case, a few days before the departure.
Back at the airport. Intercity flights are easy. We bought the tickets quite a long time in advance, but the prices are the same as for a low-cost ticket in Europe. In 2 hours you are easily on the other side of Thailand. After about an hour and a half, we land in the early evening in the golden heart of northern Thailand. The city of Chiang Mai is smaller, slower and more fragrant than Bangkok. Everything is somehow closer.
The city is quite logically divided. The Old City, a practically perfect square surrounded by the river. Nimmanhaemin district, Nimman for short, where you can find cafes and restaurants. And then everything else. The tourist guides will talk about other parts of the city that are special, but I can tell you about these two.
Chiang Mai is a city of food and coffee. You have to spend months here to go through all the cafes. And even longer to try all the food. One dish is typical for northern Thailand. Khao Soy. It's basically Thai chili chicken. Mostly a whole leg in a red curry sauce with half-boiled, half-fried noodles. If you're after the golden liquid, i.e. beer, beware. In some pubs they will pour you, or they open the bottlers only after 17:00.
In addition to typical Thai dishes, Nimman, this gastro district is good for any other world cuisine. From Japan to Italy. And it's also good for spending money. Just two large department stores, Maya and One Nimman, can accommodate almost all the world's brands.
How to get around Chiang Mai? You have several options. We have been looking for such well-known TukTuks in Bangkok for a long time, but there was neither sight nor hearing of them. Instead, red minibuses run everywhere. They have a uniform price and function as a collective taxi. Just step up to the road and wave. You ask the driver if he will take you where you want and it almost always costs you 30 BAHT per person. But expect to wave a little longer from the dark evening city. You won't be seen properly on the streets. We combined the return trip with a TukTuk. Conveniently to the airport again with the Grab app.
The only time we paid much more was when we took the winding roads to the most famous temple in Chiang Mai. Doi Suthep. The Golden Temple at the highest point in the city. It is recommended to visit it at dawn as you will encounter fewer tourists and more monks. We expertly put it at lunch, when there is the worst light and the most people. So I recommend at dawn.
Speaking of trips, the Doi Inthanon National Park with the highest mountain in Thailand is not far from the city. On Tripadvisor you will find a lot of trips and prepared programs, so you just have to choose and that's it. You will walk from slum to slum, through the fine coffee that has replaced the cocaine transshipment, to the high-altitude architecture.
We spent almost 10 days in Chiang Mai, but I recommend visiting for a maximum of a week.
Car rental companies in Thailand will make your job easier and deliver the car directly to your hotel. So you don't have to rush to the airport. This is how we decided to make a trip with an overnight stay in the even more northern city of Chiang Rai. The further north, the greater the language barrier, the spicier the food. Upon arrival, we were tempted by the papaya salad, so we told the gentlemen at the mortar to make it non-hot. I understand, it is done badly when you have one mortar where you mix it all. I thought I had built up some resistance to hot foods in those few weeks in Thailand. This was inedible. I left it untouched for my wife, she probably doesn't feel the pain.
There are probably only 3 places to visit in Chiang Rai. Blue and white temple. These are two newly built temples for a single purpose. Attract tourists. Maybe in 500 years. Nothing for me now. The third place is the Gyanjin Goddess Temple. A monstrous structure, looking like a Buddha, but not a Buddha. This is much more interesting. The restaurant in the complex is also interesting. You can eat well very cheaply.
Is Chiang Rai worth the trip? Definitely not.
The sea, finally. Krabi is the part of Thailand you know from movies and your dreams. Ao Nang it’s the beach part. Don't be afraid to invest and live as close to the sea as possible, it will pay off. We stayed at Airbnb hotel, where a taxi took us directly from the airport. It's probably the best option. But be prepared for at least 40 minutes in the minibus.
As you approach the beach, and it can be 2 in the afternoon or 3 in the morning, it's a party. On the other hand, it has its advantages. A well-established tourist destination means all sorts of impossible food and drink options. Here you will find an Irish pub with ultra-expensive Guinness, an Indian and an Italian restaurant. If you don't buy at least one trinket on the street, it's as if you're not here.
The basic means of transport here is a scooter. So don't hesitate and go rent one. Prices are around 200 BAHT per day.
Several possible attractions await you on the coast. Beaches, yoga, thaiboxing, survival game with monkeys, and so on. The beach you want to spend the better part of the day on is just down to the east. And when you reach the very eastern tip, a monkey can jump on your head. But there is a gentleman who will save you. For a while I didn't understand his mission in life, but it has something to do with protecting monkeys.
There are more schools of Thaiboxing, or muaithai. I wanted something more personal and so I chose Krulek Muai Thai. If you're lucky like me, you'll go to the morning mass class and end up in private, because nobody wants to be there at 9 in the morning.
Esoteric yoga or cardio? You will probably find both variants. I was on the one on the island of Kho Yao Noi. And even though I don't like yoga, the surrounding environment only enhanced the experience. However, I prefer to get hurt in Thaiboxing.
Speaking of Kho Yao Noi, Ao Nang is mainly a port, the starting line on the way to the surrounding islands.
A small island where there is really nothing at all. You will have to ride a motorbike across half the island every day to get to the only grocery shop. But the beauty is not in the amenities, but in the almost complete solitude. Unlike perhaps the most touristy place on Ao Nang, this is a real change. We searched for the best beach for a while, but we finally found it! I'll save you the trouble, it's the one in front of Koyao Island Resort (there is hidden alley just in front of the hotel). Accommodation? An absolutely unprecedented experience in cabins on chicken legs. The only thing that separates you from the outside world is a mosquito net, because those bamboo walls, as if they weren't there. Going to the toilet and shower is like a coin toss, will you live or slip? It took me back to Nepal for a while, but would I choose anything else? Never! It's not for the faint of heart, but I don't regret it. On Ko Yao Noi, we took advantage of the possibility of a private boat trip to two islands or peninsulas. Nok Island and Sandbank beach. The second in the order is unreal beauty. I won't spoil it, but it's worth it.
A day trip on a speedboat is great until your daughter eats the very aggressive part of the pineapple and then it's just a pain, especially for her. But until then, great. But the most famous beach in Thailand is a completely different experience. I imagined it anyway. But what it actually looks like is a whole different song. No, it's a completely different genre. Thailand can be as touristy as it wants, but here you really stand in line at the pier, which is crowded with dozens of different ships and boats. On the beach itself, there are hundreds of people eager to take a photo. Thanks to the movie The Beach and then swimming here, the coral reef was damaged, which is now being restored. What does it mean? That you can’t bathe in the water. A bunch of whistle-blowing bodyguards take care of that, keeping an eye on rebellious visitors. Is it a place to avoid? Probably yes. But everything else on the trip was great, from swimming to sunrises and sunsets, happy smiles. I recommend!
According to the rating, the most beautiful beach in Thailand. I don't know where the ratings come from, everyone says something different. We broke the bank and booked a rather expensive hotel. In which, paradoxically, that was the only one where we discovered a cockroach. But he was probably just a stray traveler. With the pool right in front of the room, it was a great experience. And although Ao Nang is relatively weak in terms of gastronomy, we ate well here. Monkeys and people everywhere, standard tourist level. The great thing is that the boat taxi back to Ao Nang is almost free.
It's time to end this fairy tale. We still have the journey back via Bangkok. There we get very burnt and it gives us the best lesson for all the other journeys. We book a hotel right next to the airport because we only have 2 days here and we think it would be good to be nearby. But what we don't see is that the trip to the city takes almost 2 hours by taxi every day. No one expected heavy traffic. So, for the first time in my life, I book a second hotel in the center at the same time and we move on the second night. After all, time is the main currency, next to happiness.
On the way back, and actually every other day, just this extra thanks for having a child. Once again we have a transfer in Taipei and this time more planes met at one time. At the same time, our plane was delayed, so we only have an hour and a half to transfer. That's roughly how long the check-in queue between Asia and Europe can last. I don't envy those who stand at the end. If you have a small child or are in a wheelchair, plus a few other exceptions, you will receive priority treatment where you will almost always get ahead of the entire queue. Thank you, so we catch up and fly back to reality, back home.
And the rating? Absolutely top. Thailand is a great place for everyone. It is a great place for people with children. It is a great place for everyone who likes food, culture, travel. You can go very touristy, but also very cozy. You can get lost in the small streets of Chinatown in Bangkok, find the quietest beach in Ao Nang and watch the sunsets in a small bar in Ko Yao Noi. But what will be most important is the company in which you are there.
Once a month you will explore original stories, look behind the scenes and probably learn something new.
© 2024 Marek Dvorak / Photography