Thailand Part 1

We began our travels in Thailand in the lovely city of Chiang Mai. After landing in Bankok airport (no trouble whatsoever, and if you’re flying with Bankok Airways make sure you take full advantage of the free food and drink in the departure lounge!) we took a short transfer to Chiang Mai airport and a taxi ride to the Little Bird Guesthouse where we had booked a few nights to stay. This is a gorgeous little guesthouse splat bang in the backpacker area of Chiang Mai with same and mixed sex dorms, comfy beds, clean bathrooms and a lovely communal area with internet access.

Should only set you back about 200B per night, and the staff will bend over backwards for you – carrying your luggage to your dorm, offering you a map of the local area with tourist spots already circled. From here we booked a one day cooking course and one day trek with elephant riding and white water rafting to take up the next couple of days before we jetted off for Phuket.

Chiang Mai is a great stop off in Thailand, definately worth seeing – just around the corner you can locate a street vendor offering the best Pad Thai for 35B, deal yourself in on this and a couple of 23B beers from the 7/11 opposite and you’ll be laughing as the meals and drinks in the bars around are typical of Thailand and will set you back at least 160B. If you don’t fancy spending dollar in expensive bars in Chaing Mai then the guesthouse is a perfect place to chill out with cheap beers and meet fellow backpackers. If you are in the mood for some authentic Thai grub then the Lazy Dog cafe just around the corner (ask for directions) is a beautiful organic cafe which serves anything you could want including an extensive vegetarian menu, and they have their own gigantic compost heap in the back garden, which they utilize to grow their own fruit and veg. The owner is the biggest hippy and will hippy on to you about everything that is wrong with the world and how distressed he is about the lack of trees – a little odd but so friendly, and if you leave anything there he’ll keep hold of it until you return, whether it be in a few hours or a few years.

Try not to be put off by Starbucks and McDonalds and such like in Chiang Mai – it’s one of the less Westernised areas in Thailand, the locals are very friendly, the food is amazing and you can trawl through dozens of cute book shops and pick up paper backs for around 50B.

We booked through a place called the Thai Scening Cooking School which offers you 7 dishes to prepare, cook and eat yourself, should set you back about 900B maximum. The girls that teach you how to cook the dishes are amazing, so friendly, helpful and funny. They’ll take you around the market in Chiang Mai and teach you which rice and noodles are the best to use.

We made green curry paste from scratch, made from the herbs and vegetables in the organic garden out the back of the Cooking school. For the rest of the day we made Thai Green Curry, Coconut Milk Soup, Pad Thai, Hot Basil Stir Fry, Spring Rolls, and Bananas in Coconut Milk for pudding – delicious. Also, if you want a vegetarian option, let them know before you start cooking and they’ll replace any chicken in the dishes with Tofu and more vegetables. By the end of the day you won’t be able to move, thankfully these guys offer you a chill out zone with fans and cooling mist so you can sit and digest for a few hours before slumping off.

The next day we hopped on our Trek with Panda Tours, 800B for the full day, they’ll advise you’ll get back to Chiang Mai around 5pm… You won’t. They’ll drive you in a small truck with the rest of your group to the Orchid Orchard so you can wander around and look at the butterflies they have fluttering around, very boring, don’t spend too long here. From this destination they ship you up the hillside where you jump off and trek for around 20 minutes through dirt tracks and villages, picking fresh Lychees as you go. We reached the Chiang Mai Elephant Camp after this very warm walk and met the elephants who had kindly agreed to taxi us around for an hour. If there’s too many people to sit on the elephant’s back, they’ll throw you onto the neck to ride them like a real Mahout – this gets pretty uncomfortable, smelly and dirty but it is certainly an experience. Especially when the elephant in front lets one rip.

Luckily for us, the camp had just been blessed with a baby elephant, it was only 8 months old when we met it, and was the cutest little thing – Please note, don’t waste your memory cards on this one day, these won’t be the only elephants you will meet in Thailand; they pretty much roam the streets like Taxi’s.

After the elephant ride and lunch they take you for an icy cold dip in a waterfall nearby, very refreshing. Savour this, as after the watefall it’s a 45 minute drive to the White Water Rapids. As it was low season when we went they were not too extreme, but it was a pretty fun experience clashing against the rocks and rolling around on top of each other, unable to manouvre in stiff life jackets and helmets. The locals all crowd around the riverside (i’m sure they must pay for this) and laugh and splash you all the way down.

Oh, also make sure you wear quick drying clothing for this portion of the expedition as after the (very wet) rapids, you’ll move onto the bamboo “rafts”. I say “rafts”, they are long flat platforms made of bamboo which, quite simply, do not float. You might as well swim downt the river, but the locals who take you on the rafts seem pretty pleased to meet you so it’s worth doing if you don’t mind getting even more wet, thankfully this country is so hot you dry off in less than a minute. You can grab a beer at the drop off point whilst you’re drying before you head back to Chiang Mai (approximately 8pm).

That night we grabbed our oh-so-favourite Pad Thai for 35B and headed to the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar which, if you can’t be bothered with Bankok or Phuket town, is your next best spot. Wall to wall fakes and knock offs, you can pick up anything here from Ray Ban to Tiffanys for no more than 200B, be cafeful taking fakes back to your country – it’s sometimes frowned upon.

The next day our flight took us straight to Phuket, we jumped onto a mini bus from the airport (150B if you share) and decided to choose Patong beach as our first resort – mistake. Patong Beach is basically Magaluf for Australians. Every male looks like a female and every female looks like a hooker. People drag their children around the streets, unexpectedly stumbling across strip clubs and peep shows wherever you turn, they literally shove the industry in your face, and even if your curiosity gets the better of you and you fancy a peek, a drink will set you back at least 900B and you’ll see cigarettes being smoked from places cigarettes should never be smoked from. Considering Patong was one of the worst areas hit in the Tsunami, and during the recovery the local authorities decided to curb businesses and street vendors on the main strip, this is not so apparent. The only thing you can do in Patong is drink through it and simply watch the circus from any small, relatively clean looking bar you can find. I could have lived my entire life without visiting Patong.

We swiftly checked out the next morning and took a Tuk Tuk down the coast to Kata Beach which is absolutely stunning. Very quiet and peaceful with picturesque beaches, Kata is the perfect hangover cure. Not an awful lot to do if you’re looking to spend more than 2 days here, but to top up your tan and take a break from the chaotic Thai partying Kata hits the nail on the head. We stayed in the Lucky Guesthouse, recommended in the Lonely Planet guide, which is a cute group of beach bungalows and rooms for about 450B a night, clean rooms with fans and tidy bathrooms, and a 5 minute walk to the beach down the main strip of restaurants and bars.

Don’t expect any night life in Kata but certainly check out the beach and there are a couple of islands nearby which are perfect for diving and snorkelling. Be prepared to spend 100B for a sunbed on the beach, and if you see a few dark grey clouds approaching, leave for shelter immediately, as Thai rain storms are a little more extreme than the rest of South East Asia.
After a couple of relaxing days at Kata we booked transport by minibus and boat to Koh Phi Phi after hearing it’s endless praise, and my my is it worth every Baht. Should only cost you 300B to get here from Phuket, and believe me it’s worth it, considering this little beauty was almost completely destroyed in the December 2004 Tsunami you’d never guess, it’s stunning. Accommodation varies all over the island from as little as 200B to a hefty 1200B plus for air conditioned rooms and a pool. We checked into The Rock in the center of the backpacker area, a 2 minute walk to the beach and right splat bang in the middle of all the restaurants and bars, but we’ve head great things about P&P Guesthouse and Phi Phi Charlie, just wander around and enquire into prices.

Phi Phi is one of Thailand’s absolute gems, you can spend the day sizzling on the beach or take some time out of the blistering sunshine and pearly sands and check out the abundance of top class diving that Phi Phi has to offer, you can do a full course, a day or night dive or even just a half a day’s snorkelling for very reasonable prices. The beach is swarmed with backpackers either sunning themselves or running around playing beach sports, you can rent a kayak for the day if you fancy a bit of time in the sea but bare in mind that the tide comes in and out pretty randomly, you’ll have to walk a good few KM to even reach ankle depth at some points in the day so be prepared to carry your kayak back to shore!

The shopping in Phi Phi is also top notch with dozens of vintage boutiques for you to pick up a different outfit for each night you’re there, and it won’t even break the bank. The food on Phi Phi is in abundance, ranging from 10B Spring Rolls to 300B luxury meals (check out the Viking Restaurant) – but for decent, well priced food and lovely service check out Garlic, a stones throw from the beach with a few more joints dotted around the town. The internet is also readily available, don’t pay more than 2B per minute.

The nightlife in Phi Phi is the best I have come across so far, this island is top on my list of places to visit as the atmosphere is perfect. Every night you are hounded by promotors with drinks offers from all the bars – check out Tiger Bar between 11pm and 11:30pm for a free bucket (80% Thai Whiskey, 20% mixer, served in a beach bucket – lethal)

Pick up 3 buckets for 300B from the Irish Bar then head down to the beach (the drinks at the beach bar are way overpriced so pick up some from the 7/11 or a local bar before you go down) and party at either Slinky, Apache or Ibiza Bar before finally heading a little further down the beach and hopping into a hammock at the very chill Stoned Bar – open until 6am. If you’re into it, the Reggae Bar offers live Thai Boxing matches every night, and if you volunteer you get a free bucket… just don’t do this AFTER a bucket.

We met a bunch of amazing people on Phi Phi ranging from the off-their-head Swedish lot, the young but friendly Cornish lot, our lovely little Norwegian girls who we celebrated Norwegian Constitution Day with (see pictures) and finally some familiar faces from Nha Trang which made Phi Phi double the fun but very difficult to leave.

Phi Phi holds black moon parties whenever the moon is not visible and they’re some of the best parties in Thailand, although pretty much every night in Phi Phi is the best party you’ll have in Thailand. Fire throwing, free beach BBQ’s, cheap buckets and loud music every night means that you’ll never be bored, and you’ll never be in bed before 3am.

Sitting right at the top of my list of favourite places in the world so far meant that leaving Phi Phi was pretty emotional, we booked transport from here to Kho Pha Ngan via Krabi through one of the local tour agencies and after a few emotional goodbyes whilst nursing a hangover we hopped back onto the ferry and back to reality.

Keep your eyes here for Thailand Part 2!

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