Travel stories from Thailand
From the king's palace to Little India and Chinatown, through the old European quarter and on to the beginnings of Bangkok's modern business district, a stroll down Charoen Krung Road touches nearly all of the historical-cultural threads that weave this fascinating city together. With eclectic food, bustling markets and a diverse mix of attractions, it's also a feast for the senses. Khao San and Sukhumvit roads may be better known to travellers, but nowhere is Bangkok's spirit more vivid than along Charoen Krung.
Number E9 on the Sukhumvit Line, On Nut was the furthest out of the new BTS stations to be added back in 2010, and it's a prime example of how the Skytrain is revitalising the outlying areas that it reaches. Before the BTS arrived, this area was a sort of backwater chiefly defined by local neighbourhoods with charming old wood homes and ugly concrete shophouses. Since On Nut station opened, more than a dozen enormous condominium buildings have been constructed, and new restaurants and hotels are popping up like dandelions in the springtime. The transformation is far from complete -- expect to see ongoing construction here -- but On Nut increasingly has something to offer both the traveller and the expat seeking affordability and a non-touristy setting.
The Samui Prison Project (SPP) was set up by local legal firm, PKN Legal & Business Consultancy, to work with groups raising money to help prisoners in the Women’s Unit at the Ko Samui District Prison. The aim is to assist the prison in its own efforts to provide rehabilitation for female offenders through education, training and community support.
The only station west of the main interchange station at Siam, National Stadium is number W1 on the Silom line. A stone's throw from Siam Square, National Stadium is useful for accessing -- you guessed it -- the National Stadium sports complex along with a handful of hotels and some notable sights along Rama I Road. This is also the closest you can get by sky train to Khao San Road and the rest of Banglamphu, although it's still a four kilometre walk or 60 to 120 baht taxi ride depending on traffic.
It's been called 'Bangkok's Brooklyn' -- an area west of the Chao Phraya River where artsy youth hang loose with grannies and grampas in century-old houses. Unlike swiftly transforming central Bangkok, most of the neighbourhoods perched along Thonburi's canals and alleyways haven't changed much over the past century. Foreign tourists are still a novelty, but those willing to stray from Bangkok's comfort zones are rightly rewarded.
Ko Pha Ngan is home to some of the most picturesque beaches in the world, with turquoise waves lapping on powder-white sand. With 32 beaches in total, some without proper roads to reach them, it's possible to find your own little piece of paradise not overrun with other travellers – you just need to know what you're looking for. We took a stab at this back in 2005, but the island has grown up quite a bit and here are our 2013 picks for Ko Pha Ngan's best beaches, starting from the northeast corner of the island, and continuing counter-clockwise.
Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Kanchanaburi, Phuket and ... Chanthaburi? This coastal province in southeastern Thailand isn't usually listed among the kingdom's premier destinations, but maybe it should be. With waterfalls, a coastline full of surprises, fabulous regional food and a dreamy old riverfront district influenced by the Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese and French, Chanthaburi offers a wealth of good stuff in one accessible package.
Coconut trees crouch over white sands, limestone cliffs soar from clear aquamarine water and another magnificent sunset unfolds; it must be the Andaman Sea off the southwest coast of Thailand. The decision to visit this, one of the world's most idyllic destinations, is an easy one, but choosing an island or two can be tough. Settling into a single island for a solid chunk of time is the best way to fully unwind, but if seeking adventure, why not hop till you drop by way of high-speed ferries?
There's nothing like settling into a bare-bones beach hut on a nearly off-the-map tropical island where honking horns, politics and TV commercials exist only as distant memories. On the Thai islands below, the mind has space to relax, reflect, and to lose itself in gently swaying palms. These places aren't bursting with activities -- and that's sort of the point.
Many of Thailand's islands have seen staggering development in recent years, but a slice of unspoilt paradise can still be enjoyed in several marine national parks. If you're hoping to traverse rugged mountain trails, relax on near empty beaches, meander mangrove forests and sea-caves by kayak, be pestered by monkeys rather than touts and doze off to the sound of waves instead of beach parties, these islands are for you.
In late July of this year, a Dutch woman, on the way home from celebrating her 19th birthday at a bar in Ao Nang Krabi, was allegedly beaten and raped by a Thai tour guide. When she later arrived at hospital, the medical team treating her assumed she had been in a motorcycle accident because of the severity of her injuries. The assailant, whom she identified and who initially confessed to the crime when arrested -- a month later -- is now out on bail, and denying guilt.
With its stunning UNESCO-listed ruins steeped in Khmer-Thai history, central Thailand's Sukhothai is a must for historically and spiritually inclined travellers. The area is split into two distinct districts: old Sukhothai, which is home to the historical park, and the inviting if not charming riverside city of new Sukhothai some 12 kilometres east of the ruins. Great places to stay can be found in both old and new -- but which is right for you?
For nature lovers, UNESCO-listed Khao Yai national park is one of Asia's best. Spanning some 2,168 square kilometres over three provinces, Thailand's grandest and oldest national park is home to thriving communities of plants and wildlife along with stunning jungle, mountains and waterfalls, all accessible from a sizable network of roads, hiking trails, cabins and campsites.
Fish vendors frantically lug their buckets into the shadows. A gang of photographers emerge from the woodwork to snatch a spot near the old train track/footpath. Several men hastily lower the market's makeshift roofs as pineapples and mangosteens tumble from their baskets. A lazy day at Samut Songkhram's small but tightly packed Mae Khlong market has instantly transformed into a chaotic spectacle. Turning around, I realise why: "That train's not going to try coming through here, is it?"
Thailand is known for its beautiful beaches, and Ko Samui is no exception. Being one of Thailand's most popular tourist locations, Samui's beaches may no longer be as secluded as those of the smaller islands. For some, this is not a negative; but those still opting for isolation or authenticity need not worry, as this can still be found with a little help.
There's been talk on the Travelfish forum that Thailand's backpacker nerve centre, Khao San Road, is little more than a "dodgy" place where "sharks", "the most unscrupulous people in Thailand", "Thai mafia", "thugs, gangsters and thieves" prey upon the droves of dreamy-eyed travellers passing through each day. For many, the area's party-gypsy-rainbow-child atmosphere is a fun time, but how safe is it? It's unlikely problems will arise if you stay smart, but just in case, here are some tips for safely experiencing Khao San.
Pick up any guidebook, leaf to the Phuket Town section and I guarantee you'll see the words "Sino-Portuguese architecture". To dig a bit more deeply than a guidebook does into what this actually means, I spent a half day with Kritchaya (Chaya) Na Takuathung of Phuket Heritage Trails and discovered that there's a lot more to Phuket's history than a bunch of pretty shopfronts.
Over the past ten years the tiny southwest Thai island of Ko Lipe has gone from being a little known blip of sand in the Andaman Sea to one of Southeast Asia's most heavily touristed small islands. While a decade ago there were just a few simple resorts, today Lipe boasts close to 50 accommodation options to choose from, with the trend going persistently towards expensive, upmarket spa resorts.
A lot of mediocre guesthouses and hotels are available on Ko Phi Phi, despite its popularity (or perhaps because of it). Booking in advance, sight unseen, can often yield unpleasant surprises. But the alternatives aren't much more promising: tramping around the island on your first day trying to find a decent spot, or trusting one of the touts who greets you at the pier. But never fear — we've done the tramping for you.
When you've finished sunbathing and splashing about on the beaches of Phuket, you'll likely want to shower off the sand and see what else the island has to offer after dark. A lot of what's on offer is sleaze — though officials would deny this — but here's a selection of some of the better, family-friendly stuff on offer.
Chawadee Nualkhair has just released a new book, Bangkok's Top 50 Street Food Stalls, profiling the top 50 street food stalls (plus a few stragglers) in Bangkok. The Thai-born, American raised food lover reveals to Travelfish.org some of her favoured spots, advises what adventurous eaters to the capital should try, and tells us the most far-out thing she ate in the name of research that saw meals devoured across 150-plus stalls.
If you find yourself in Thailand's tourist hub Phuket, we'd recommend a visit to Patong beach ... if we hated you. Every year squillions of tourists descend on the once glorious two-kilometre sandy expanse, and it shows: the beach is dirty, touts are relentless, the water's plagued by jet skis, the sand by dune buggies and if you aren't careful a parasailer may just knock you out from above. Yes, you can endure this dystopian nightmare, or read on to get the skinny on some of Phuket's secret beaches.
Former food writer Jarrett Wrisley opened his first restaurant, Soul Food Mahanakorn, in Bangkok last year to rave reviews. We ask the American restaurateur about his food philosophy and tease out his tips for hungry travellers to Thailand.
So you've got a day to kill in Bangkok? It's not much time, especially when it's easy to be overly ambitious in the Thai capital, setting out to do a million and one things only to find that the traffic, the heat and the crowds thwart you. But here's a relatively slow-paced itinerary focused on the Sukhumvit-Siam Square stretch for those on a not-too-tight budget wanting to savour a bit of the city's cosmopolitanism. Think eating, shopping and relaxing with a touch of sightseeing thrown in.
One of the very common questions we see on Travelfish.org is "What is the fastest way to get down south?" Down south referring generally to one of the three Gulf islands of Ko Samui, Ko Pha Ngan or Ko Tao, or to the west coast Andaman islands out from Krabi, Phuket and Trang. You can fly, get an overnight bus or a train, but before that, take a breath, slow down and think about what you might be missing. With a sly week or so up your sleeve, here are five spots we'd venture are worth a look in and hey, you may like them so much you'll never make it to the islands!
Like most mass-transit rail systems in big cities, Bangkok's skytrain (aka BTS), which opened in 1999, can be confusing when you first use it. But with a bit of research, it will all become as clear as the capital's air was 100 years ago. Better still, before you know it you'll be whizzing above Bangkok's traffic-snarled streets without a care in the world.
Update: As at early June 2010, all warnings for travel to Bangkok have been lifted, the city has largely returned to its old self. We still suggest you work to keep abreast of developments.The street fighting in Bangkok, primarily between the UDD (better known as the red shirts) and the Thai authorities, has escalated considerably over the last few days. Since April 10, there have been over 66 fatalities and at least 1,700 people injured, including a number of foreign journalists. While the violence is fairly localised to a few areas of Bangkok, the situation is extremely volatile and could spread quickly and without warning. Travelfish.org advises travellers to avoid all travel to Bangkok.
Questions relating to Thai visas are some of the most common ones popping up on the Visa and Border Crossings section of the Travelfish.org forum. Given the Thai authorities change the rules so often it is no surprise that people get confused regarding both the need for a visa and how they can get one. So what follows is a brief summary of the rules and regulations regarding Thai visas along with some background information that may help.
Dawn breaks in Thailand. A wave of orange sweeps over the entire country as monks from all over leave their monasteries and depart for their daily alms round. This scene has attracted more and more Westerners towards a closer glimpse of the lifestyle of a Thai Buddhist monk. Spending time in a monastery during your visit to Thailand can allow such an experience, and in fact was for me one of the greatest times I had in the country. Walking into any monastery for the first time means leaving your old world behind in exchange for new, far different one. No cell phone... No laptop... No iPod. This is a good thing.
Located along Thailand's east coast, the differences between the sands of Pattaya and Ko Samet are intriguing. Both are tourist destinations in their own right, packed with guesthouses and late-night bars, but it seems the clientele of each is reflected by the very beach itself. Oddly enough, to some capacity these two places of excess -- only 100km apart -- are virtually opposites.
Somehow I found myself on a street corner, eating some sort of ground-meat pseudo-sushi on-a-stick. At well past midnight, with the neon glow of 7-Eleven glaring over me, another glorious Thai day was coming to a close. But before all that can be explained, perhaps the day should be put in proper perspective.
What makes the perfect beach? Are you looking for stretches where no other speedo has swum or are sunset bars and thumping music more your thing? While Ko Tao is best known for its diving industry, it's also home to more than its fair share of glorious stretches of sand. So here is a round up on some of Ko Tao's best beaches -- note though, this isn't an exhaustive list -- we don't want to take away all the fun!
Two opposite worlds exist within Thailand's capital, depending on the presence of the sun. Busy yet relaxed, this city is bustling at all hours. I didn't quite realise the extent of it until I spent 24 hours awake in a city that lacks the desire to sleep. The day began by cruising through the city in the modern, comfortable, affordable (40 baht), and delightfully air-conditioned Bangkok SkyTrain. Thanks to our guesthouse'send-of-the-line location, we were even guaranteed seats, a luxury no longer available at further stops.
Khao Sok national park in southern Thailand is a reserve dominated by a 165 square kilometre lake surrounded by ancient rainforest. Huge limestone columns jut out of the water, monstrous sentinels that dwarf your longtail boat as you cruise by. Most travellers visit in order to trek through the jungle, spot wildlife and soak up the peace and tranquility that the park radiates.
Many first time visitors to Thailand travel between Bangkok and Thailand's northern capital Chiang Mai with barely a thought for the intervening territory, but if you've got a bit of time up your sleeve, there are a load of attractions between the two cities. Be it national parks, temple towns, or just nice-for-chilling-out traveller centres, there is no shortage of destinations to be waylaid at. Also as regular Travelfishers will know, we're big fans of taking scenic indirect routes so while you can shuttle between the two on an overnight train, you can just as easily spend a month getting from one to the other.
I have made Thailand my home, I live on a small island called Ko Tao off the east coast and teach travellers to scuba dive. Many people comment on how lucky I am but luck really has nothing to do with it. My response is always the same, you can do it too, and it's true.
It seems barely a week passes without some new ghastly story hitting the airwaves about corruption in Thailand. Be it beer mat nabbing mums in Phuket, tourists being extorted at the airport or the old tried and tested gem scam story it seems Thailand should be slapped with a "buyer beware" sticker. Over the last year, and far more seriously in Travelfish's humble opinion, we've seen ongoing political uncertainties, street protests in Bangkok, border clashes with Cambodia and the neverending shifting sands of visa regulations. More and more often I wake wondering: Does Thailand really want tourists to come at all?
It seems for now that the red-shirt protests that gripped first Pattaya and then Bangkok over the last few days are over. Services, including trains, buses and flights, are running as normal. A heavy military presence remains in some parts of the city, but aside from that it is largely back to business as usual. So here's a round-up of what happened, with some links for further reading and suggestions for those who'd really prefer to avoid Bangkok altogether.
We thought it was about time to inject a touch more culture into the Travelfish site, so here is a list of 10 art galleries in Bangkok worth poking your head into. Note you'll see no national galleries here, but rather more independent, small operations, as that's where you'll often find the most challenging art in Thailand. We've not set our eyes on all these places ourselves (we're a bit lacking in the culture department) but we put the word out and some of our far more cultured friends helped us come up with this shortlist.
Many first-time visitors to Thailand just assume that Chiang Mai is where it's at when it comes to trekking. It was -- about 30 years ago. Today it's possible to go trekking from over a dozen different locations throughout Thailand and there's all manner of add ons, from elephant riding and rafting through to language and cooking tuition. While it's easy to think all treks are made equal, that's rarely the case and different locations offer different pros and cons. Read on for the Travelfish wrap on 10 trekking spots excluding Chiang Mai.
In February 2009, we spent just shy of a couple of weeks wandering the streets of Bangkok, knocking on doors and checking out rooms looking for the best guesthouses in town. The scene has changed a lot since our previous story on this and there's no shortage of fine places to stay, especially in the flashpacker bracket. While Khao San Road remains the epicentre of the backpacker scene, there is an increasing selection of places to stay elsewhere in the city that fit the backpacker and independent traveller mold. So read on to discover our pick for the 10 best guesthouses and hostels in Bangkok.
For some of us, the lure of living abroad is irresistible, and often, teaching the ever-marketable English is the easiest route there. For me -- already a teacher in the US -- it was an obvious means to an end. But for others, the transition isn't as natural. Here's my story -- and a bit about what to expect from yours -- should you decide to give it a go.
With the islands off Krabi growing more and more crowded, Trang offers an ideal alternative for those wanting to find some quieter beaches. With at least a half dozen inhabited islands dangling along the shore, Trang would seem ideal for a week of island hopping. Unfortunately, the truth is that transfers between the islands are expensive, and travelling in the region can be time consuming. To make the most out of your tropical getaway, it's better to simply pick one or two islands, and allow yourself a few days on each. But with six possible island getaways, how do you choose which one is right for you? Each island has a distinct personality and vibe, and each is designed to fit different interests and budgets. So to help you pick, I pose a simple question: what are you looking to do on your island holiday?
To truly get inside the mind of an accomplished scammer you must first serve yourself up as a delectable juicy morsel. So thorough is my ability to get served, I now have a list of warnings and common scams operating in South East Asia to share with you. Please do not feel pity. My intentions were always noble and I have done a fine job in redistributing my wealth to others.
This tour takes in the best temples Ayutthaya has on offer and a few other sites along the way. It allows plenty of time to explore each site, and the full circuit can be done in a day or split over two half days. Those doing a full day need to set off by around 09:00, but you can also bail out half way if you just want to see the top sites on the island or can't be bothered to get up early. If you want to start first thing when it's cooler and the light is better for photography, the temples open at 07:30. Whatever time you go, remember to take sunscreen.
Many travellers to Kanchanaburi book themselves straight onto a bunch of tours so they can plug as many sights and attractions as possible into their scant time available. Our man on the ground took a local's advice and skipped the tours to roll his own Khanchanaburi -- read on to find out how he went.
You're passing through Bangkok and need just a few hours sleep in a cheap guesthouse not far from the airport, but when you Google "accommodation near Bangkok airport" all you get are listings for hotels that cost per night what you budget per week. Don't fret! There's no need to sleep at the airport or on the street, nor to pull an all-nighter at the closest karaoke parlour you can find. You can find a cheap bed close to each of Bangkok's airports -- here's Travelfish's pick.
If you're planning a holiday in Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam and are thinking of flying some of the legs, then the Discovery Airpass -- a flight coupon deal offered by Bangkok Airways, Lao Airlines and Berjaya Air -- can work out to be a slight money saver, delivering on the promise of cheap flights right across Southeast Asia.
A vendor strolls the edge of the beach, a clutch of large paper lanterns folded neatly under her arm. She walks purposefully, hoping to catch someone's eye. She at last finds some interested customers -- a group of friends out from Bangkok for the weekend, who are enjoying a seafood dinner. They take the lantern out onto the sand, gather around and strike a match to light the wick below, watching as the delicate paper begins to glow. They release it, and it slowly rises to join the other lanterns already floating above the sea. As you sit on the cool white sand watching this, you realise this won't be your last visit to Ko Samet.
With the 2007 opening of the Prek Chak / Xa Xia border crossing between Cambodia and Vietnam it's now possible to travel from Ko Chang in Thailand all the way along the Cambodian coastline and into Vietnam. For beach and boat lovers, this is a great trip as from Ko Chang you're able to visit Ko S'dach, Sihanoukville, Ko Russei, Kampot, Kep, Ko Tonsay, Ha Tien and Rach Gia, before finishing off on the glorious Phu Quoc Island. Here's a step by step guide taking you through the entire trip, commencing in Trat and finishing on Phu Quoc.
Set along the banks of a lazy river and located just 25km to the west of Ayutthaya, the small rural community of Ban Lan Khe provides the perfect opportunity to experience Thai family life amid a tranquil setting. Whether looking for somewhere to enhance your travel experience, enjoy nature or simply unwind, this could be just the place for you.
The ancient city of Lamphun, founded by the legendary Thai queen Chamadewi, is just 30 kilometres from Thailand's northern capital of Chiang Mai. Along the way, we pass through a shady avenue of sacred trees blessed with Buddhist orange swathes and offerings, planted by the Prince of Chiang Mai in 1899.
It might be only a slight exaggeration to say that no trip to Thailand is complete without spending time on the rails. Thailand's trains are an economical and comfortable means to get around, and a great way to see the countryside and rub elbows with your charming hosts. They are safer than the bus, cheaper than flying, and the most stylish way to get to where you want to be.
A lot of people show up on Phi Phi Island ready to spend like drunken sailors, and the prices have been rigged accordingly. One way for budget travellers to save money is to simply not go there! But it's definitely worth seeing, so we've come up with some ways to visit the island without emptying your bank account.
Parents should not hesitate for a moment to bring their kids of any age with them on their trip to Thailand -- especially to Phuket. Thais are fantastic with children and Phuket is full of curiosities and wonders your kids will always remember, even if they're too young to remember anything aside from the elephant that just walked past their dinner table... So here's some tips to milk the most out of your family holiday to Phuket.
The trip from Bangkok to Siem Reap and Angkor Wat is one of the most talked about routes in the region: scam buses, awful roads, visa rip-offs, over-priced taxis and a whole realm of shysters and con men to boot, but in the end, it's a very straightforward trip, which, with a bit of planning is as easy as pie. Here's a cheat sheet to get you there and back without too much fraying of the nerves.
If you're trying to stretch out your funds -- maybe living in cheap guesthouses, fan rooms, washing your laundry in the sink, walking 3km when it'll save you 20B and generally travelling on the cheap, then you've probably heard that Phuket province can be a real budget-buster. This is true, but it would be a shame to skip this beautiful and unique island, so we thought we'd point out some ways for the frugal wayfarer to see the whole island, and stay within budget. Read on to learn how to see Phuket on the cheap.
Phuket calls itself the diving capital of Thailand -- and it hosts about hundred dive shops to back up the claim. Competition for customers has resulted in some good deals on offer, but also some over-packed trips of reduced quality, so be careful when selecting an operator. Ironically, many of the dive sites on offer are actually in other provinces, but all the daytrips are reachable within 2 hour by speedboat. Two-dive trips are usually offered for about 3,000B -- add about 500B for each additional dive site. Live-aboards typically run about 2,000B per day per diver.
Bangkok's brand spanking new airport officially opens September 28 and while a few airlines have already started using it, the bulk of carriers won't start flying in until the 28th. The lead-up to the airport's opening has concentrated on the hyperbolic -- tallest control tower, largest terminal building, most "expensive" luggage scanners and so on, but what about how to get there and away? Here's the nitty gritty.
If you're looking for trackless forest and untamed wilderness, the best advice is usually to head to northern Thailand, or better yet, northern Laos. But just an hour away from Phuket, lie two islands where KFC has yet to even think of opening up its doors, where dirt roads turn unexpectedly into cow paths before being engulfed in forests of wild coconut palms and mangroves, where tourism is still an after thought, and where the clamorous din of commerce is nowhere to be heard. Welcome to the Ko Yao islands.
Long gone are the days when Ko Tao was just for divers. The past few years has seen a flurry of new ventures offering all sorts of land, sea and even air based activities for visitors without the time or the inclination to take a diving course. Here's just a few...
Nestled between two jungle-clad headlands on the northwestern coast of Thailand's Phuket, Trisara boasts gorgeous villas with some of the most breathtaking views from the tropical palm-fringed island, so if you're looking for a bit of unparalleled luxury to break up your thatch bungalows, and have a spare 20,000B or so in your wallet, Trisara is a mighty fine option...
Most travellers come to Ranong for exactly one reason and one reason alone -- to get that passport stamped so they can legally stay in Thailand for another 30 days. While doing the border run isn't particularly pleasant, it is straightforward -- particularly when you've got a Travelfish Howto guide on hand.
The Bangkok to Ko Samui, Ko Pha Ngan and Ko Tao route is one of the most common paths taken by travellers and tourists on their holidays in Thailand. Here's a blow by blow summary of the ins and outs of getting to and from Bangkok to the Gulf of Thailand islands.
The northeast region of Thailand (better known as Isaan) might be hot and dry, but with the lure of Khmer temples John Rowell doesn't mind getting dust on his shoes. We have decided to explore the near north-eastern region of Isaan, an area of Thailand that does not have the usual lush picture postcard image. We have come primarily to see the famous lost temples, legacy of the Khmers, who ruled the area for over 600 years.
As more and more hotels go up on the shores of Ko Chang, more and more divers are going down offshore. The Ko Chang Marine National Park's 52 islands take a backseat to diving in the Similian and Surin islands in the west and Ko Tao further south in the Gulf of Thailand. But for some divers, this only adds to the appeal as the Ko Chang's waters are wonderfully unspoilt by over-diving.
Did you know that to drive a car into the Czech Republic you need to have a warning triangle, a fluorescent jacket, a spare set of glasses (if you wear them), a first aid kit, a fire extinguisher and a replacement bulb for every light in the vehicle? I didn't and nor did Jo Huxster and Antonia (Ants) Bolingbroke-Kent of Tuk to the Road. For Jo and Ants, two British 27 year-old women from Brighton and Norfolk these are the vital snippets of intelligence they've been collecting this year in preparation for a 10,000 mile epic trip from Bangkok to Brighton raising money for the UK mental health outfit Mind... oh and did I mention they're doing it in a bright pink tuk tuk called Ting Tong?
Did you know that within 20 minutes of jumping on a bicycle at Bangkok's Emporium mall you can be pedalling your way through the hidden jungles of Umphang? Neither did I, until I did an Amazing Bicycle Tour in the amazing megalopolis of Bangkok (okay, I admit it, it was Samut Prakan, not Tak).
Thailand is famous for its tropical islands. From Phuket to Ko Lipe, Ko Samui to Ko Tao and from one Ko Chang to another, there's an island for every month, a beach for every week, and a new palm tree to lay under for every day. But the question begs, "What is the best island in Thailand?"
It is early evening and I've just avoided a collision with an orange vendor's cart by leaping nimbly onto the footpath's edge in a side street off one of Bangkok's main roads. Already the traffic noise has notched up a few decibels as this is a business area and soon there will be throngs of workers and shoppers ready to indulge in one of Thailand's favourite pastimes -- eating.
When most people think of Kanchanaburi, the first images to pop into their mind are of lazy days by the riverside, a few waterfalls and perhaps a jungle trek with an elephant thrown in. Bangkok resident Mark Fenn visited Kanchanaburi in late 2005 for the River Kwai Bridge Festival and found attractions and a festival well worth searching out.
Sala Daeng station is number S2 on the Silom line, two stops away from Siam, the main interchange station. It lies above Silom road, close to the intersection of Rama IV. Simply put, Thanon Silom is one of the liveliest, busiest and most interesting areas in the whole city. Something for every taste can be found here - pirated music and movies, great restaurants, crowded clubs, sleazy sex shows and more. During the day, it's a pretty active area but it really comes alive at night. The sidewalks are crowded with stalls selling all manner of merchandise, the smell of food keeps changing every few seconds and people, motorcycles and cars all vie for their piece of real estate.
Station number S1 on the Silom Line and only one stop away from Siam, the main interchange station, Ratchadamri BTS is one of only a few stations on the Skytrain line that doesn't really offer all that much in terms of exploring. The station is within easy walking distance to several important points of interest, but there are other stations that are even closer.
The best way to get a good guesthouse for the full moon party is to get there early. By early we mean 4-5 days before the party -- not a day or two. This will give you time to find a flophouse to crash in and then spend time triping around Haad Rin and or the island to find the place you want. Remember ALL beaches on Ko Pha Ngan will organise transport to get to the party -- you do not have to stay on Haad Rin to party -- in fact an increasing number of people trip over from Ko Samui just for the night. Also, remember a LOT of people leave before the party.
Phaya Thai station is number N2 on the Phaya Thai line, sitting above the intersection of Phaya Thai Road and Si Ayutthaya Road, two stops away from Siam, the main interchange station. Phaya Thai station belongs to a very exclusive club with only a few members, that being a BTS station that has nary an interesting site or attraction anywhere near it.
Ratchathewi station is number N1 on the Phayathai line and one stop north of Siam, the main Skytrain interchange station. It sits on Phayathai Road. There are a few interesting things to see if you're here, but most of them are clustered directly around the station - stray too far away and you're unlikely to find anything of particular interest.
Sanam Pao station is number N4 on the Sukhumvit line, four stops away from Siam, the main interchange station. It sits on top of Phahon Yothin Road. It also belongs to the small yet exclusive group of BTS stations whose only membership requirement is that they have nothing to offer the traveler looking for anything of cultural interest.
Saphan Taksin station is number S6 on the Silom route as well as the terminal station for this line. This station sits on the edge of the Chao Phraya river and is a handy place to disembark if you want to explore the river area on foot or grab a river taxi to numerous destinations. There is a rail bridge already built across the river (without rails so far) that's ready to extend the BTS into Thonburi - but political hiccups and infighting are keeping it from getting completed on time. Note - this station is not named after PM Thaksin Shinawatra, but rather Phraya Taksin who crowned himself king in 1769 and ruled from just across the river, in Thonburi.
Phrom Phong station is number E5 on the Sukhumvit line, and is in the area that's come to be known as 'Farang Alley' by some. There are many Western style restaurants, shops and attractions here, so it's inhabited by a large population of foreigners and tourists. Even so, it's possible to find some pleasant Thai touches in this area, and is an interesting area to spend an afternoon exploring. The road under the station is Sukhumvit Road, which has several small sois running off of both sides along its length.
Number S5 on the Silom line, Surasak station doesn't have a great deal to offer in terms of tourist attractions or nightlife, but it does boast a low-key atmosphere and is only one stop from the central express boat pier along the Chao Phraya River. The station is located near the west end of Sathorn Road and borders the financial and business district of Bangkok which is mostly occupied by corporate offices and schools.
Phloen Chit station is number E2 on the Bangkok Skytrain line, which means that it's two stops East of the main skytrain station, Siam. Situated at the point where Sukhumvit road becomes Phloen Chit road, it's close to some fairly important Bangkok landmarks.
Chong Nonsi, station S3 on the Silom line, lies right on the edge of Bangkok's financial and business district of Sathorn. This street is lined with huge office towers, corporate art sculptures and people scurrying about in power suits on their way to power lunches, and doesn't offer too much in terms of interesting attractions. Chong Nonsi station lies on Narathiwat Ratcha Nakarin (easy once you say it a few times), in between Silom and Sathorn.
Chid Lom skytrain station is close to some very big shopping complexes and landmarks where you can snap up everything from captive birds -- release them and get good karma-- to gold plated BVLGARI watches (if that $10 Rolex you bought stops working). The station is number E1 on the Sukhumvit skytrain line, one stop from Siam, the chief interchange station. The main road underneath the station is called Phloen Chit, and this is where most of the interesting things to see are located, particularly to the west. This area is quite farang-heavy and a bit upscale.
Soi Thong Lo is quickly becoming one of the more interesting areas in Bangkok, with high-rise condos and funky stores, enticing restaurants and eclectic art galleries flinging open their doors. An afternoon stroll here will leave you highly caffeinated, very full and possibly even a little bit cultured.
The first in our series of "Exploring Bangkok by Skytrain" series -- with a new station to be added every Friday afternoon (just in time for the weekend). We cover everything from restaurant and bars to little-known art-cafes, and they're all walking distance from Bangkok's BTS Skytrain.
As Friday beckons, the minds of many a desk-chained Bangkokian wanders to where one might escape for some relaxation and rejuvenation... Ko Si Chang -- too close; Ko Samet -- been there, done that; Ko Chang -- just that bit too far away; Ko Kut -- way too farflung. So what's one to do with a free weekend and a desire for a bit of sand, sea and socialising? What about Ko Mun Nork?
Of all the holiday destinations in northern Thailand, Chiang Mai is one that has seen the emergance of some truly outstanding guesthouses and hotels. Regardless of if you want to spend 200B or 10,000B, chances are you'll be able to find a guesthouse or hotel that not only represents excellent value, but that is also comfortable, charming, friendly and quiet -- yes it is true -- cheap places like that really do exist in Chiang Mai.
The vast majority of the roads in northern Thailand are paved and 99 times out of a 100 a Honda Dream will be more than sufficient (as long as you don't mind the occasion sections spent permanently in first gear). A very interesting and little trafficked route is the Chiang Rai Loop -- a fun and beautiful ride with dozens of kilometres of stunning scenery and next to no traffic.
Nearly all first-time travellers to Thailand choose to embark on a hilltribe trek in the mountainous area surrounding Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Son in Thailand's north. While the majority will have a great trip, a substantial minority will have a very poor experience, either due to sub-standard operators or unrealistic expectations. Here are a few pointers that newbie trekkers should keep in mind when selecting a trek. We're focusing on Thailand, but the essence remains mostly true elsewhere in the region too.
With a rapidly developing range of accommodation from ultra-basic thatch bungalows for 80B a night through to totally decadent luxury suites for 5,000B a night, Ko Pha Ngan truly offers something for everyone. If the choice doesn't leave you floundering to make a decision, you'll also have to choose the atmosphere you like best for a holiday: there's well over a dozen beaches with characters spanning hedonist-haven to party-animal to secluded strips of sand that no guidebook has ever mentioned. Here's a cheat sheet to some of Ko Pha Ngan's better beachside options -- we'll leave the accommodation choices for another time.
I'm reclining in the front passenger seat of a 40-year-old Mercedes 200 series as we pull up to the 10th military checkpoint in 20 kilometres en route to Hala Bala National Park in Thailand's strife-torn Narathiwat province. One of the soldiers, surprised to see a farang smiling at him, waves us through without a thought. My Yawi-speaking driver guns the car and goes back to yabbering about the price of cigarettes, still in shock at my revelation that a pack of Marlboro cost over 400B in Australia. Checkpoints aside, the violence of the far south couldn't be further out of mind.
Thailand's strife-torn far south is a region largely under siege, with 9pm curfews and a heavy military presence throughout. But when I backpacked through the provinces of Narathiwat, Pattani, Yala and Songkhla in June, I also found time and time again genuine Thai hospitality that has become somewhat of a rarity in other parts of the more heavily-touristed south.
With over a dozen beaches and bays and hundreds of accommodation choices from deluxe hotels and luxury spas to thatch huts and cheap bungalows, Ko Samui has a wealth of options for the discerning traveller. But how to pick the right spot? As hotel propaganda neglects phrases like "under the flight path", "disco next door", "no beach at low tide" and "30 minute walk to beach", you'll need a bit more research -- the following pointers may help.
With hundreds of guesthouses spread across the city, Bangkok can be one of the trickiest places in Thailand to decide on a place to stay. Although the Khao San Road area is popular, other parts of Bangkok are just as good, if not better. So don't rush to follow the hordes to Khao San Road -- do your research -- there are a lot of other options out there -- and pick a guesthouse that will fit in your budget, suit your style and let you do what you need to do easily. An updated version of this story, for 2009, is available here
The first time I stayed on Khao San Road was after a trip through Nepal and India in the early 1990's. I remember arriving late at night, new to Thailand and climbing out of the cab, dazed and confused straight into the arms of a tout who led me to a flophouse in the back of KSR. Windowless with cardboard walls, a filthy mattress and a never-ending racket from the rooms that surrounded mine, from memory it cost about 50B -- in those days about US$2 -- what a bargain I remember thinking.
Thailand is slowly recovering from the tsunami that devastated the region on Boxing Day 2004 -- some areas far quicker than others. We were in Sri Lanka at the time of the tsunami and heard shocking reports of the devastation as we remained in the most affected Sri Lankan areas. Around the one month anniversary of the tsunami, we decided to follow-up on these reports and visited the three worst affected areas in Thailand -- Phuket, Khao Lak and Ko Phi Phi to see how the cleanup and reconstruction was going. Beach to beach the damage varied considerably as did the stages of reconstruction (if any). What we found were tremendous levels of destruction, matched only by the spirit of those affected to get back on their feet.
Ko Tao grants more PADI certificates than anywhere else in the world with the exception of Cairns, Australia and every year thousands of people visit the Ko Samui, Ko Pha Ngan and Ko Tao to either get a PADI certificate or just do some recreational diving. Although many say that the best diving is on Thailand's western coast at the Similan and Surin Island groups, the diving on the east coast is still described by many as world class.
During my first two-month trip to Thailand I had at least 20 massages in which I was prodded, twisted, crippled and then repaired by some of the best masseuses and worst hacks in the country. At 200B for a beach massage (back when the baht was 25B to a $1), they weren't cheap, but I just couldn't help myself.
I burst into bitter tears the evening we arrive, a day of eating raw food behind me. I want a hot shower, a pina colada at sunset and white-linen sheets to snooze under -- a blissful week of indulgence. But the bathroom door is jammed open to the menacing jungle, a toad hopping by is eyeing me as I douse myself in cold water and I won't be eating solid food for the next seven days.
"You are a very lucky man. A very happy man. You are a lucky man. Do you know why you are a lucky man? Show me your palm. How is it that I can tell you the name of your mother and your girlfriend? How is that I can tell you your age and how many brothers and sisters do you have? How is it that I can tell you what work that you do? Come with me to my place. Come."
Feature story quicklinks
- Giving back in Southeast Asia (4)
- Burma (3)
- Cambodia (19)
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- A Cambodian Eco-lodge
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- Battambang weekend
- Elephant riding in Cambodia: Should you?
- Great places to stay in Siem Reap
- Is Preah Vihear safe to visit?
- Koh Rong: Trouble in paradise?
- Kompong Cham escape
- Northeast Cambodia in photos
- Oh Poipet!
- PEPY:Sustainable Cambodian tourism
- Phnom Tamao Wildlife Refuge
- Sihanoukville beaches lure expats
- Spas, shopping & seers in Siem Reap
- The best islands in Cambodia
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- The Death Highway
- Trekking the Cardamoms in Cambodia
- Why you should go to Cambodia
- Indonesia (13)
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- A funeral in Toraja, Sulawesi
- Climbing Rinjani
- How to hire a boat in Indonesia: Without drowning
- Learn to surf in Bali
- Medewi: A great Bali getaway
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- The Gili islands: Which is the right one for you?
- Ubud bird watching: From waterhens to witchcraft
- Ubud shopping guide
- Village trekking in Tana Toraja
- Weekend in Nusa Penida
- Yogya's student scene
- Laos (14)
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- Best budget rooms in Luang Prabang 2013
- Elephant trekking in Laos
- Exploring Laos' Bolaven Plateau
- Huay Xai to Pak Tha by slowboat
- Is Lao Airlines safe to fly?
- Laos' vanishing elephants
- Luang Prabang escape
- Muang Ngoi Escape
- Photos of Luang Prabang, Laos
- Pi Mai Lao in Luang Prabang: In 1999
- Southern Laos by scooter
- The Gibbon Experience
- The Phonsavan adventure
- Vientiane's Chinatown
- Malaysia (6)
- Singapore (9)
- Thailand (59)
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- 10 Bangkok galleries worth a look-see
- 10 Thai treks aside from Chiang Mai
- 24 Hours in Bangkok: Sukhumvit to Siam Square
- 5 Southern Thai towns to lose time in
- A Thai homestay in Ayutthaya
- A weekend on Ko Samet, Thailand
- Andaman Sea island hopper
- Ayutthaya temple tour
- Bangkok for art lovers
- Bangkok's Charoen Krung Road
- Bangkok's Thonburi: exploring the west side
- Brilliant Bangkok
- Chiang Dao getaway
- Corruption in Thailand
- Eating on the edge
- Exploring Lamphun
- Exploring the Lungs of Bangkok
- Far southern Thailand: Go or not?
- Highlights of Chanthaburi province
- How to do Khao Yai National Park
- Khao San Road safety and scams
- Ko Mun Nork: a nearby paradise
- Ko Pha Ngan 7-day detox:Colonic fast
- Ko Pha Ngan's best beaches in 2013
- Ko Phi Phi on a budget
- Ko Tao for non-divers guide
- Ko Yao: the islands you're looking for
- Motorcycling the Chiang Rai loop
- Narathiwat: residence of good people
- Navigating Bangkok: The BTS Skytrain
- Phuket by night
- Phuket for Kids
- Phuket heritage walk: Car parts to saris
- Phuket's secret beaches
- Planning around Thailand's civil unrest
- Roll your own Kanchanaburi
- Should I book for the full moon party?
- Should I cancel my Thai holiday? No.
- Soi Thong Lo, Bangkok
- Sorting out Suvarnabhumi Airport
- Staying at a Thai monastery
- Thai islands for nature lovers
- Thai islands to lose yourself on
- Thai visa FAQ
- Thailand tsunami wrap
- Thailand's Mae Khlong market
- Thailand: Where to from here?
- The best beach on Ko Samui
- The bridge over the River Kwai festival
- Travelling through north-east Thailand
- Trekking in Thailand
- Trisara -- decadent luxury at its best
- What is the best beach on Ko Tao?
- What is the best island in Thailand?
- What's a good beach on Ko Pha Ngan?
- What's a good beach on Ko Samui?
- Where to stay in Sukhothai?
- Which beach on Ko Samui?
- Which island in Trang?
- Vietnam (29)
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- A short break in Nha Trang
- A Weekend in Can Tho
- Being fed Fido: Eating dog in Vietnam
- Buying a touring motorbike in Vietnam
- Con Dao escape
- Do nothing and see the best of Hanoi
- Doing the DMZ from Hue
- Exploring Kon Tum
- Exploring Vietnam's Mekong Delta
- Ha Long Bay conclusions
- Ha Long Bay for backpackers
- Ha Long Bay for budget-busters
- Ha Long Bay for flashpackers
- Hanoi escape
- Hanoi or Saigon?
- Hoi An -- Walking over the dragon
- How to do the Dien Bien Phu loop
- How to enjoy your time in Vietnam
- How to pick a good Ha Long Bay cruise
- Is the Hoi An culture tour worth it?
- Motorbike Vietnam's Central Highlands
- One day in Hanoi
- Responsible shopping and eating in Hoi An
- Saigon's top 10 cafés
- Street food safety
- The DMZ: Traveller tactical briefing
- Travel tips for Tet in Vietnam 2013
- Two Wheels & Ricefields: A review
- Which is the best street food tour in Hanoi?
- Accommodation guides (18)
- All stories
- 2005 Top guesthouses in Bangkok
- 2005 Top guesthouses in Chiang Mai
- 2006 Top guesthouses in Hanoi
- 2006 Top guesthouses in Phnom Penh
- 2006 Top guesthouses on Ko Phi Phi
- 2006 Top Luang Prabang guesthouses
- 2008 Top Bangkok airport guesthouses
- 2008 Top Luang Prabang guesthouses
- 2008 Top spots on Phu Quoc Island
- 2009 Top guesthouses in Bangkok
- 2009 Top Phnom Penh guesthouses
- 2011 Best places to stay in Kuala Lumpur
- 2011 Best places to stay on Ko Phi Phi
- Best places to stay in Hanoi 2012
- Cheap Phuket guesthouses & hotels
- Five special hotels in Cambodia
- Ko Lipe's best budget guesthouses 2012
- The changing face of Khao San Road
- Travel with kids (7)
- Opinion & advice (14)
- All stories
- 10 reasons to do an adventure tour
- 10 reasons to travel independently
- A year's worth of travel for 2013
- Beach hideaways in Asia
- Do I need reservations for my holiday?
- Evil man of Krabi
- Fifteen tips for a great holiday in Asia
- Getting a cheap airfare to Asia
- Hotels should never charge extra for WiFi
- Long distance buses in Southeast Asia
- Mass tourism in Southeast Asia
- Nine Asian upcountry hideaways
- Planning a Gap Year? Some advice.
- Ten Southeast Asian trips for 2008
- How do I? (11)
- All stories
- Bangkok to Ko Samui, Pha Ngan & Tao
- Bangkok to Siem Reap
- Catching a train in Thailand
- Catching a train in Vietnam
- Cheap flights with Discovery Airpass
- Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang
- Crossing the Cambodia Laos border
- Ko Chang to Phu Quoc Island
- Siem Reap to Ko Chang
- Stops between Bangkok & Chiang Mai
- Visa run from Thailand to Burma
- Cycling Asia (13)
- All stories
- 24 hours in Bangkok
- An Angkor cycling guide
- An introduction
- Battambang, bamboo trains & guides
- Confessions of a "cheating cyclist"
- Cycles of all sorts
- Ha Long Bay independently
- Ko Samet Vs Pattaya
- Muay Thai night
- Phonsavan and Luang Prabang
- The hills of Vietnam
- The road less travelled
- Tubing in Vang Vieng
- Health and safety (6)
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- Diving guides (6)
- Photo essay (3)
- Guest blog (2)
- General (15)
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- 10 Christmas days in Asia we're yet to have
- 10 dumb things I've done while travelling
- 34 ways to travel greener
- Asian animal experiences
- Call me Mr Massage Magic
- Chefs Without Borders
- Flying is fun!
- Mr Golden
- On being a travel writer
- Teaching ESL in Asia
- The 211 country honeymoon
- The Boxing Day Tsunami: 5 years on.
- To Teach or Not to Teach
- Travel writing scholarship 2012
- Tuk to the Road Charity ride
- Book reviews (5)
- Interviews (8)
- Explore Bangkok by BTS (15)
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- Bangkok by skytrain: Ari
- Bangkok by skytrain: Chid Lom
- Bangkok by skytrain: Chong Nonsi
- Bangkok by skytrain: National Stadium
- Bangkok by skytrain: On Nut
- Bangkok by skytrain: Phaya Thai
- Bangkok by skytrain: Phloen Chit
- Bangkok by skytrain: Phrom Phong
- Bangkok by skytrain: Ratchadamri
- Bangkok by skytrain: Ratchathewi
- Bangkok by skytrain: Sala Daeng
- Bangkok by skytrain: Sanam Pao
- Bangkok by skytrain: Saphan Taksin
- Bangkok by skytrain: Surasak
- Bangkok by skytrain: Thong Lor
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