We’ve both been to Thailand before on previous holidays so felt a real familiarity with the food, the locals and wonderful sights. It was fantastic to return to Bangkok again after 10 years – how much it has changed! It’s now no different to other large Asian cities, rivalling Singapore and Hong Kong as a big city destination. We already spent a wonderful time on the islands – with definitely some of the best beaches in the world and the best diving. We’ve summarised our highlights and lowlights below.
Our Thailand highlights
THE FOOD! You cannot come to Thailand and not be in love with the amazing food. We don’t think there is another country we’ve been to (except Vietnam) where we just didn’t get sick of the cuisine. It’s fresh, full of flavour and variety and most of the time very healthy – not to mention cheap too, especially the street grub. We found some fantastic local eats in Chiang Mai, when I was learning Thai massage the streets around the school were packed with cheap but tasty cafes serving local delights.
As we were in love with the food we of course went to a Thai cooking class in Chiang Mai. My best friend Bella was in town so we went to a brilliant Thai cooking class run by Sammy on his organic farm. We cooked so many different dishes spanning appetisers, main courses through to desserts and all of them tasted better than what we had eaten before. It was such a fun day! We highly recommend Sammy’s organic cooking school to everyone – don’t miss out!
There are wonderful beaches and diving around the south islands, we spent Christmas on Koh Lanta and had such a relaxing time and finally got our PADI Open water certifications there. On different holidays we had already been to Koh Phi Phi, Koh Phangan and Koh Samui which also had amazing beaches, although they are now very touristy and attract more gap year students than ever, they still make for the perfect beach holiday. The Thais sure know how to make you feel welcome though – another highlight was definitely the locals and their warm smiles.
Bella and I had also spent a day at Baan Chang Elephant Sanctuary learning to be a mahout which was hilarious fun! The 2,400 baht (£50) was pretty steep but the money went towards management of the sanctuary and elephants, donation to rescuing more mistreated elephants, transport to and from our hostel as well as food and drink for the day. We learnt to command the elephants as well as ride them bare back – which we learnt was more comfortable and natural for the elephants rather than those awful huge benches they strap on for tourist rides which are really painful for the elephant – every time I saw those rides being offered somewhere I would cringe (they were pretty abundant in Thailand, India and Cambodia). Washing the elephants at the end of the day was the most fun! They loved playing about and spraying water at us!
Learning Professional Thai Yoga Massage in Chiang Mai was a huge highlight for me. Learning something to help heal others was really important as well as choosing the right school to learn at. It was a fantastic experience and I’ve made many new friends along the way. I chose SMH (School of Massage for Health) and had such a wonderful time learning and joking around with the teachers and students. Chiang Mai was such a lovely and chilled city, I could happily see myself living there!
Not exactly a ‘highlight’ but definitely worth a mention – dental care at Grace Dental Clinic in Chiang Mai. Myself and Neil were stuck with acute tooth pain and obviously had to have it checked out. It turned out my crappy NHS dentist did a shoddy job on my root canal which became infected and underneath Neil’s old crown there was some decay. Cutting a long story short, I had a re-root canal completed as well as 12 white composite fillings done (yes I know that’s a lot but again my crappy NHS dentist just didn’t bother giving me a proper check up before we left the UK), Neil had to have a root canal done and new white porcelain crown made and 3 white composite fillings. Grace dental was amazing and were the top dental clinic in Chiang Mai, the endodontist was fantastic and used only very high tech equipment, the clinic was extremely clean and very professional and we were very happy with the results. The dentists were pretty shocked at the shoddy work completed by our dentists back home. If we carried out all of the same work at a dental clinic in the UK the bill would have amounted to £3000! Our dental bill in Chiang Mai came to £750 but because our Outbacker insurance covered emergency dental work we claimed back a majority of the money – the insurance company covered £500 (maximum amount of £250 each) so our actual bill was only £250! We wouldn’t hesitate recommending getting dental work done in Thailand, it ended up saving us £2,250 and the level of care was better than our experience in the UK so far.
Our Thailand lowlights
Our major lowlight was having our drinks spiked in Chiang Mai. We were REALLY lucky and (we think) someone had helped us to get back to our guesthouse in one piece with all of our possessions intact. We were basically partying at Zoe in Yellow till closing time, drunk but not legless and we were going to head back to our guesthouse. We met some locals who said we should go to a club with them so stupidly we followed. After only one drink we blacked out. We woke up the next day passed out in our room, still in our clothes with cuts and grazes on our arms and legs (clearly having fallen over on tarmac) with absolutely no recollection of what happened. I vomited continuously all day (as if I had food poisoning) – all in all it took about two days for our bodies to fully recover. Let this be a lesson learned and a big warning to others partying in Asia, apparently it’s too common for drinks to be laced with Chloral Hydrate especially in the red light districts where solo travellers are targeted for a mugging. Though any area in Asia where tourists linger can definitely breed some kind of trouble. Watch your back! We later met two British girls who had their drinks spiked on the Thai island of Koh Phi Phi, they were lucky to have gotten away in one piece but it was obvious to them that the guys they were chatting to were aiming for a date rape scenario.
Sadly the island of Phuket definitely makes the lowlights list! Why? Well, we had a great time but only because we stayed in a funky hostel run by awesome staff and met and hung out with a bunch of other backpackers. The island itself, overrun by Russians and their holiday packages had become not only the most expensive place to be in Thailand, but also the most commercial and touristy out of all the other Thai beach destinations we had visited. Phuket just didn’t do it for us and we would never go back.
Another lowlight would be the traffic, taxi and tuk tuk drivers in Bangkok – luckily we only ever stayed within walking distance to the Royal Palace and the various temples so we didn’t have to suffer being stuck in the traffic or use taxis frequently. The taxi drivers were really hit and miss though – some drivers were rather aggressive, refusing to switch on the meter and instead demanding a fee five times the price or more of the actual journey. So the only option was to get out of the taxi and find another one. It did get rather annoying.
It’s actually quite difficult to think of other lowlights, we’ve only had some great times in Thailand! Definitely a country we would not tire of returning to time and time again!