During our backpacking trip, we only did a few stops in Thailand: Bangkok – Chiang Mai – Khao Sok National Park – Khanom. In this blogpost I will tell you something more about the four cities, how long we stayed, in which guesthouse or hotel we were sleeping and all the things we visited.
Our holiday started out in Bangkok. A noisy, busy and dirty city. I can’t help but recalling the smell of Bangkok. But our journey started out with a bang ;-). Or just with taking a cab and an epic ride through the city, in which we had to give directions to the driver… A big hooray for Google Maps is needed here. Taking a cab in Bangkok, isn’t without difficulties, mainly when it comes to paying the driver. The main rule for taking a cab at the airport – any airport in Bangkok – is that you have to pay an extra 50 THB on top of the meter, because the driver is registered. Another important rule is that the tollways aren’t included in the price. We didn’t know that and started arguing with the driver, but unfortunately, he was right :-). But to make a long story very short: we arrived without any further problemes – mainly thanks to ourselves – at our hotel. We stayed at The Region. The Region is a sober hotel, with large rooms. The staff (= a mother and her two children) don’t speak enough English to ask a lot of questions, but they are friendly and helpful. The breakfast was okay.
Our plane arrived in the (late) afternoon, so there wasn’t a lot of time left to visit the city. The rain kept on pouring out of the sky as well, so that wasn’t very inviting neither. We decided to do an evening walk towards the Khao San Road – yes, the road where Leonardo DiCaprio was sleeping in “The Beach”. I have to say, it looked a bit different – bigger actually than in the movie. But the neon flashlights and the noise was correct :-). We enjoyed some Pad Thai on the street. The only thing that was a bit disappointed, was the lack of fried insects. I would have loved to see tarantulas and scorpions on a stick – although they make you pay to shoot some pictures as well. But we didn’t see none. Sad.
Today was the longest day – and in the end the only day – we had to visit the city. We woke up early, enjoyed our breakfast and headed out towards the Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace. We wanted to arrive there early enough, to skip most of the buses that drop of tourists. It’s impossible to see it without tourist though :-). In the Wat Phra Kaew you can find the Emerald Buddha. You can’t take pictures of it and it’s so small that I don’t think it’s worth taking of your shoes for… The temples are much more beautiful from the outside than from the inside. What I loved about this temple, were the demon guards :-). The Grand Palace was nothing special. We were in time to see a (chaotic) changing of the guards; but other than that there’s wasn’t plenty to be seen around the palace.
Our second stop for the day was the Wat Pho, which we liked more. Not only because there were fewer people that visited the temple, also because there’s a bottle of water included in the ticket price! A gift from I don’t know where. But it was very welcome. If you visit the Wat Pho, don’t only walk around the place, but go and find the Giant Lying Buddha as well. And try to take a good picture of it :-). Yes, that’s a challenge!
After that we returned to our hotel to get some rest and a drink. I didn’t plan anything else on this day, but we still had a lot of time left, before we had to take the nighttrain to Chiang Mai. So we decided to climb up the 344 steps and go to the Wat Saket (= Golden Mountain). The Wat Saket is actually nothing more than a golden stupa at the top of a mountain with a view over Bangkok.
Although there’s much more to be seen and done around Bangkok, musea, the ancient city, … we didn’t visit anything more. After the Wat Saket we took a cab to the railway station and risked our lives to get to our tickets. They were already booked, but you had to collect them a few hours before your train leaves. The only way to get them was to cross a extremely dangerous crossroad. If the locals tell you “you’d better wait a few minutes before he’ll tell you when to cross”, you know you better listen…
A few hours later we could finally take place in the train. The air-conditioning was broken- but they were repairing it – se we took place in a sauna. Luckily at the time the train left Bangkok, the air-conditioning was working, but I’m still not sure if that was for the best…
On the final day of our journey we ended up back in Bangkok. We were totally relaxed, after our stay at the beach, and we didn’t want to visit the city anymore. So we just stayed in the Park Srinakarin Hotel to keep on relaxing.
The joy of a nighttrain in Thailand :-). Remember that I said (a few lines earlier) that I wasn’t sure if the working air-conditioning was a gift? Well, that’s because during the nighttime – or actually from the moment the sunset started – the carriage turned from a sauna into a freezer. Just take a lot (and I really mean a lot) of clothes with you to cover yourselves up. As you only get one little blanket that really doesn’t give you any warmth. In short: it was a bumpy ride in many (many) ways.
When we arrived in the Chiang Mai Train Station – an hour late, we arranged a drop off service via the tourist information desk and they dropped us of at The Scale House, our hotel for the following two nights. It was a charming little place, with the emphasis on “little”. But the owners were very friendly. They compensated the fact that the bed was a nightmare and the rooms weren’t soundproof. The location was good: on walking distance from the city center, and just around the corner you could find the Tikky Café, were they serve you excellent food and shakes for a good price.
In Chiang Mai there’s a lot to be seen and done. The first day did a small city walk, exploring some of the temples. We started out with the Wat Phra Singh, which was close to the hotel. On our way to the temple, a rainshower took us by surprise and we ended up taking shelter in the Wat Pan Tao, a temple made entirely of wood. After the Wat Phra Singh we went to the Wat Chedi Luang. Here it’s mainly the ruin temple that’s worth visiting.
Three temples later we wanted to see something else. So we returned to our hotel and tried to arrange a tuktuk to the Wiang Kum Kam. The Wiang Kum Kam are actually ruins of the ancient capital city, before they found out that the place was easily flooded :-). So only the ruins now remain. You can visit the different ruins by tram (although it’s more like a bus…) or by pony cart. We chose the latter. Scam number two happened during our visit of the ancient city. The last ruin you pass by is the mayor temple. But during the time we were visiting the place, there was a market. Our guide asked us if we wanted to get out, but we said no, thinking that he asked us if we wanted to visit the market. So the guide went back to the entrance of the site. But even without seeing the main temple, it was still worth the trip!
The second day we booked an excursion in the Doi Inthanon National Park. We first tried to book a tour upfront, via Greenwood Travel. We were already in Thailand when we made the reservation and they wanted us to pay directly. We weren’t able to do that, so we cancelled the booking, and received an email saying that if we couldn’t pay within the day, that the booking would be cancelled in general. So I don’t know how you interpret this… but for us, it was cancelled. Our solution was to make a booking via our hotel. They worked together with Wendy Tour. We didn’t care, as all the tours are more or less the same, it really doesn’t matter where you make your reservation. Only the price can be different, or some details of the tour.
The morning of the tour, we were waiting on our minivan to pick us up. He came, picked us up and we left. At the first stop, we noticed that our guide was having some trouble concerning us. Conclusion: we had to change buses. Greenwood Travel was the one that picked us up at the hotel, before Wendy Tours arrived. Luckily all the buses stop at the same place, so we could easily switch.
The tour actually was a bit of a disappointment. Not only because the fog was everywhere when we visited the Kings and Queens Pagoda (although that was kind of epic as well, the stunning and famous view was nowhere to be ‘seen’ ;-)). The main reason was that we thought that “Karen Tribe” meant the “Longneck Karen Tribe”. But in fact it was the “White Karen Tribe”, which was famous for its rice fields. That’s kind of totally different. But who could have known that there were different Karen Tribes when the only Karen Tribe you read about, are the Longnecks. So fake advertising there, I think :-). If you want a tour that goes via the Longnecks, make sure it’s actually mentioned in the description of the trip :-). Other than that, we did visit the highest point of Thailand here ;-).
From this point on you can take a slowboat that will take you to Luang Prabang in three days, or you can travel to Chiang Khong – with a quick stop at the White Temple in Chiang Rai – for a slowboat that will take you to Luang Prabang in two days.
Before leaving Chiang Mai, we wanted to visit the Wat Umong, a temple hidden in the forest. But it was really close to the airport and we didn’t want to leave our luggage behind nor take it with us… so we decided to visit the Wat Chiang Man instead. This was the oldest temple in the city.
Khao Sok National Park
When I was reading about Thailand, I came across this National Park. And I really – really really – wanted to visit it, even if we had to struggle to get there. And stuggeling we did. It took us a whole day and a lot of transportations to get to Khao Sok, but it was worth it! We really like sleeping in a rainforest, although I’m not too keen on insects and spiders. The sound of the gecko’s, the crickets, the birds, the rain, … it’s soothing. We stayed in the Khao Sok Paradise Resort and we would definitely stay there again. We stayed in a little tree cabin and had a little balcony to relax and listen to the sounds of the rainforest. The only minor issue was that the staff was really slow. Breakfast and dinner took hours to get to our table. But it was really tasty, so I think it was worth the waiting.
We only stayed here for two nights, but you can easily stay here longer. There are a lot of activities to do around the National Park. We chose to do a tour on the Chiew Lan Lake. My intention was to see the Guilin Viewpoint (look it up!), but we booked the tour through the hotel and the Guilin Viewpoint was nowhere to be seen ;-). But that didn’t made the trip any less spectacular. We started out with a delay, as two families were still having breakfast (or ordering their breakfast) at the moment the tour started. So with half an hour delay we could drive towards the Ratchaprapa Dam, where a boat would take us to a bay with floating cabins. There were no tourist there, so it was really quiet. Our guide first took us on a hike through the rainforest to reach some bamboo boats that would take us to the Cristal Cave. After visiting the cave, we hiked back to our little bay where we had a delicious lunch and some time to relax in the water. Lucky for us the weather was perfect. Not a drop of rain :-).
At the end of our trip, we wanted to have a short beach stay as well. There are a lot of places you can go to, from Phuket to Koh Samui and so on. But how to make a choice in all those options? Easy… the weather helps :-). In the rainy season, Phuket, Krabi and all the other places at the Andaman Sea tend to have more rain than the islands or the beaches at the Gulf of Thailand. So that was settled. But in the Gulf of Thailand you have a lot of islands as well. First we decided to go to Koh Samui – which was said to have the best weather during the rainy season. It’s also very touristic. It has its own airport, but the flights are rather expensive (actually, very expensive) because only Air Asia can fly to Koh Samui. You can also take the ferry from Surat Thani though. Koh Phangan (known for its Full Moon parties) and Koh Tao (the diving island) are in the neighborhood as well. Great for those who like to dive.
But for those who are tired of travelling around, like we were, Khanom is the perfect solution. It’s a small place at the Gulf of Thailand, that’s not so touristic as the islands. We stayed at the Leeloo Cabana, in a bamboo cabin, with a hammock in front of the door, with the beach in front of us. We stayed here for three nights and two days and did not have any rain. Or maybe a bit, but only at the end of the day. So we could swim, relax, hang out, … One tip: have some patience with the staff – mainly if you order something. Make sure they have EVERYTHING to make the burger or the pizza that you want. Because it’s a challenge.
During our stay, we also made an excursion. We booked a “Pink Dolphin Tour” via the hotel. Did we see dolphins? Yes! We did see them, even little ones (who were still grey). Would I book this tour again? Well, I don’t think so. Let me explain. We got picked up at the hotel and went to the part where the dolphins were easily spotted. We jumped on a few boats together with a captain and a helper. From the moment they see a dolphin, they rush towards them, scaring them away. I liked seeing the dolphins, but I felt sorry for the animals as well. There are only a few pink dolphins left and if they continue chasing them like that, I don’t think they will last very long…
After searching for the pink dolphins, the boat took us to a small island where there was a natural sweet water source. The trip ended in a local place, where you could “enjoy” a natural fish spa and a lunch. The lunch was a bit too spicy for me, and the fish were too aggressive for my feet :-). In Sri Lanka the little fish tickled my hands, here the huge fish ate my feet. But it was a nice place, where only a few other locals got stranded.