Reflecting on Travel: Thailand
As I travel over the next 8 months around the globe, I believe it’s important to reflect on those experiences. So here begins the ‘Reflecting on Travel’ series, starting with Thailand.
In late August, I took a trip to Thailand with a friend for 3 weeks to explore the wonderful ‘country of smiles’. We took a flight from London Stansted to Cologne for a brief (and ultimately delayed) stop over before our main flight to Bangkok. This is the first city in Asia that I’ve visited and could immediately see how different the life here must be.
Bangkok: A city of contrasts
As we rode the taxi from the airport to central Bangkok city, a looming city grew closer. The traffic was at its peak and we were constantly overtaken by one, two or even three people on a moped, usually without any helmets.
Despite all of the honking, hectic driving and apparent near misses, everyone remained utterly calm and it seemed my concern was unwarranted. This is everyday life here for commuters.
According to WorldPopulationReview.com, Bangkok has over 5.1 million residents. The next most populated city in Thailand is Samut Prakan at just 388k. This just shows has heavily concentrated the Thai population is here.
The city itself was almost overwhelming at times, from the chaotic streets in Chinatown to the street food speed of service. Bangkok certainly didn’t wait to show me it’s character. The local food that I tried here was unbelievable. Flavours and spices that I had never experienced before, came to life in a colourful plate of fresh food.
After a week in Bangkok, it was time to move on to something very different.
Here is a brief video to showcase the feeling of the city.
Chiang Mai: A welcome retreat
I took a Grab to the Bangkok train station to catch the number 9 sleeper train to Chiang Mai. 13 hours on a train sounded quite daunting at first, however once I got on, I was incredibly impressed at the quality and space. Although there wasn’t quite enough room for my legs when sleeping (I’m 6ft 2 so nothing in Asia is built for me), the overall experience was fantastic and the staff were incredibly friendly.
I checked into the hostel and walked around the Old town area. Marked clearly by walking through the old walls of the city, this area is a lovely break from the hustle and bustle of Bangkok. Everything here moves much slower and the locals aren’t in any rush. The language barrier was almost non-existent and I was repeatedly surprised at the quality of English spoken by young and old people alike.
Chiang Mai is overlooked by the beautiful mountain of Doi Suthep, standing tall at 1,676 metres. I took it upon myself to make my way up to the top and check out the views. They certainly didn’t disappoint. I lingered at the top of the mountain for a few hours before getting a taxi back to the hostel. I would also recommend exploring the Monk’s trail of Doi Suthep, a quiet and relatively easy hike to a hidden monastery in the forest at the base of the mountain.
The prevalence of Buddhism was consistent throughout both Bangkok and Chiang Mai. With temples dotted around each city. Although this shouldn’t be surprising when almost 95% of the population of Thailand follow Buddhism.
After 5 days in this wonderful and peaceful city, I took a flight down to Krabi.
Here is a brief video to showcase the experience in Chiang Mai.
Krabi & Phi Phi Island: Unforgettable views
Arriving at the Chiang Mai airport was an experience in itself. There were barely any other travellers there, and fewer than 20 on my flight to Krabi. Quite the difference when compared to my usual experiences at airports in Europe.
Krabi greeted me with some cooling rain and I quickly hopped into a taxi to my hostel for the night. Then next morning I took a taxi and a boat to the Phi Phi Islands. The boat passed the famous Maya Bay from the movie The Beach. Due to excessive tourism, this is now banned from any tourism until the environment recovers.
Phi Phi Island itself is amazing, despite the excessive focus on heavy drinking and clubbing. The island has some incredible peaks which offer some stunning views for sunrise and sunset. Once the ocean retreats, it opens up a gorgeous shallow beach, perfect for sitting and admiring the bay.
Despite the level of tourism, this gorgeous island still feels natural and a little piece of personal paradise. A great way to end the trip. I had planned on also visiting Koh Tao and Koh Samui but due to the incoming typhoon, it was recommended that we don’t visit.
Thailand is an incredible country, with diverse cityscapes and landscapes. The food is top notch and the cost of everything is so affordable that you can enjoy every luxury without the guilt of spending too much. Although there are some downsides (mosquitos!), there are plenty of great reasons to visit and savour the refreshing embrace of this beautiful country and its people.
Laos is up next!