Thailand - Part 1

Travel in Thailand in 2007

Thailand is a three part article. Part 2 - follows next week and Part 3 the week after.

Buddhist shrine on street in Bangkok
People come back from Thailand raving about the place. I have friends who visit Thailand annually. One guy loves the gentle natured people and heads straight out to the rural areas to rough it in the villages. Another goes over to lounge in the sun and shop, shop, shop. And yet another goes over to have as much sex as he can. (more on that later) Clearly Thailand is a mixed bag of holiday opportunities. Nineteen million people visited Thailand in 2011 and 55% of visitors are return visitors.

After hearing countless stories, I wanted to see what Thailand was like for myself. Thailand is an affordable place to visit. You can have a luxury beach holiday, eat out every night and still have plenty money to spare for massages and shopping. What's not to like?

Ladyboys in Patong
If we are visiting somewhere exotic for the first time, we prefer to do a package holiday. We found a package deal on-line with Flight Centre but having visited Thailand, I can honestly say that it's possible, and probably cheaper, to put your own holiday together. Our trip started in Bangkok. From there we went to Phuket where we spent a week at a swanky beach side resort. Next we went up to Chang Mai for a last few days before heading back to Bangkok and home again. The deal included airport transfers and all flights in Thailand. The tour gave us a feel of the north where Chang Mai is located, the middle where Bangkok is and the south where Phuket is situated.

I was looking forward to seeing Bangkok. I'd heard it was a bustling city and is a cultural and shopping mecca. Bustling doesn't come close to describing Bangkok. It's home to 12 million people. Getting from the airport to our hotel took forever in a taxi. Traffic frequently grinds to a halt leaving the city gridlocked. Not a great way to spend a holiday. The city has come up with genius ways to commute such as a skytrain, scooter taxi, underground train, tuk tuk, cycling, river boats and ferries, and of course there are the usual forms of transport such as bus, train and catching a taxi. A small warning regarding tuk tuks or taxis. Get your hotel to book and confirm the price to avoid being ripped off.

Golden Buddha Bangkok
My first bit of advice is to take the airport rail link to get to town. It's faster and at least it moves. The same applies for your return trip to the airport. The very last thing you want is to be stuck in traffic and miss a flight. Standards and quality of accommodation vary considerably. Many establishments are not unmindful of the fact that men come to Thailand to meet prostitutes and have very strict rules about who can visit your room. Generally the cheaper places and guest houses are more forgiving than hotels in that respect.

Traffic in Bangkok
We did a city tour of Bangkok taking in the Grand Palace in the Old City, a floating market, a couple of wats (more on them later) and a general drive through the city. We would have liked to go walkabout in China Town but sadly the traffic made it impossible to fit in the full itinerary. My advice would be to hire a bicycle and visit the key attractions yourself. However, I have to say that we didn't always find street names and resorted to counting roads and making notes of landmarks so we could find our way back to our hotel.

Beach resort hotel Phuket
Thais are well known for their friendly and sweet dispositions and they really do smile a lot. Souvenir T-Shirts brandish slogans such as - "Thailand - the land of smiles." Don't be surprised if a couple of Thais join your table at one of the food markets. They love to interact with 'farang' or foreigners, but for all their friendliness, they don't speak much English and asking for a meal to be cooked in a certain way or for directions is probably a waste of time. Do make a note of some key Thai words to help you communicate in Thailand. The Thais will love it.

Now, although I am glad we visited Bangkok, it's not the sort of place I would go back to. Too many people, getting about is a nightmare, air pollution is 3 times acceptable levels, noise pollution is also above accepted safe levels, it's hot as hell and humid to boot.

Greenie making a domation at a temple
The highest market prices were in Bangkok. I saw items I had bought in Bangkok selling for far less in Chang Mai. In some areas the prostitution is in your face. You can't walk down the street without girls and ladyboys coming on to you. My advice. Spend the minimum time in Bangkok and head up to Chang Mai. It's inland and much cooler. It has a laid back bohemian vibe. Chang Mai is smaller and you can walk about without getting lost. And you buy everything for much less than in Bangkok. They have a red light scene in Chang Mai but it's more discreet.

In - Part 2 - next week you can read about temples, food, prostitution and Chang Mai. In - Part 3 - the week after I talk about shopping, markets and give some tips of Thailand.

Coral Island
Read about other destinations in the Greenie Travel archives - here.

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