Filed under: Culture, Six of the best, Travel | Tags: Amphawa, Amphoe Phanom, Ao Nang, beaches, Beer, Burma, Chao Phraya river, cycling, d Bangkok, Damnoen Saduak, fireflies, floating market, hiking, homestay, Isan, jungle, kayaking, Khao Sok, Ko Chang, Ko Kood, Ko Kret, Ko Samui, Ko Sichang, Krabi, markets, microbreweries, Mon people, Myanmar, Nonthaburi, Pak Kret, Pattaya, Phuket, pottery, shopping, Sok River, South Pacific, Southeast Asia, Surat Thani, temples, Thailan, Trat
Continuing my “Six of the best” series, I present the nicest or most interesting places I have travelled to outside of my home city of Bangkok.
1. KHAO SOK
Shortly after my move to Thailand, and with the good fortune to have a few weeks’ grace period between arriving in the country and starting work, I headed south for a combination beach and jungle trip. The beach leg was Phuket, which was exactly as I expected (beautiful but over-touristy), but before then I spent a couple of nights in Khao Sok in Surat Thani province. Unfortunately, a planned-for excursion into the jungle was called off, as heavy rainfall in preceding days had caused a landslide risk, and all organised tours had been cancelled. Even so, a brief stay in Amphoe Phanom, the hub village from which the national park is accessed, was delightful. The clean air and utterly laid back ambience is addictive, and the lush scenery some of the most dramatic in Thailand, from sweeping vistas of dark green to towering limestone cliffs. Even with tours cancelled, I could still go on more casual walks in the national park and had fun tubing down the Sok River. I’ve been promising myself a return ever since so that I can delve into the full Khao Sok experience of hiking, kayaking and more.
2. KO KOOD
In a country famed for its pristine beaches, it’s hard to pick out the best seaside destination. For coastal tourism with First World infrastructure, there are many options – Pattaya, Phuket, Ko Samui, Krabi and, increasingly, Ko Chang, among others – so what makes Ko Kood stand out is its relative lack of development. It’s not especially easy to get to, with infrequent boat services misaligned with flight timetables from Trat, and there’s little to do on the island outside of the few resorts there. There’s no nightlife of any significance, no ATMs, no shopping district, and the hilly roads – not always paved – with no public transport make navigation difficult. Development is minimal, and with all the resorts set back from the beachfronts and no buildings more than one or two storeys high, nothing but nature can be seen from the sea. Some of the beaches are so beautiful, they look like more like South Pacific idylls than Southeast Asian (and Southeast Asian beaches are nothing to be sniffed at). The tranquility might not be what everyone is looking for, but if you want a truly enchanting, pristine beach destination with no noise and no hassle -and you’re in no hurry – Ko Kood is well recommended.
They say you never forget your first, and with Krabi being my first ever Thai beach destination, it left an indelible impression on me. Ten and a half long years ago I made my first trip to the kingdom, and did what millions of others do – a two-week holiday comprising a week in the city and a week at the beach. My friend Liam and I plumped for Krabi over the more established likes of Phuket and Ko Samui, as we wanted to go somewhere a bit more untouched. I’ve been back three times, and while Krabi is certainly a lot more developed now than in 2004, it retains a charm long lost on Thailand’s tourism juggernaut destinations. The geography, characterised by world class beaches, lush greenery and limestone karsts offering unlimited postcard opportunities, is incredible, and the atmosphere is laid-back but with an infrastructure geared up enough to ensure there are no visitor inconveniences. Ao Nang is a fun and affordable little beach town which can serve as an excellent hub for exploring the islands.
4. KO SICHANG
How far do you think you have to go from Bangkok to find the “real” Thailand? You may well be thinking a trip to Isan, the nearest point of which would be about a four-hour drive at best. But actually, a mere hour out of the capital – and, even more surprisingly, just 30 minutes away from the cultural atrocity that is Pattaya – will bring you to a land of farmers, fishing villages, creaking shophouses, wandering livestock, dusty neighbourhood temples and locals who’ll be charmed by the rare presence of a foreign visitor. And this is on an island well within reach of the tourist hordes too. It is perhaps obvious why the average tourist bypasses Ko Sichang, but if you’re not the average tourist, this should appeal.
See a previous piece on Ko Sichang here.
5. KO KRET
Moving away from the seaside but sticking with islands, we come to Ko Kret, a river island in Nonthaburi. Again, this is just a short hop from Bangkok but a true leap back in development. About an hour’s drive from central Bangkok will bring you to Pak Kret district, where you can take a ferry across the Chao Phraya for the princely sum of 5 baht and enter a land that the capital city forgot. Ko Kret is largely populated by the Mon people of Burma, who live a largely subsistence lifestyle supplemented by selling pottery. A ring road circles the island, with the southern portion cutting through inland. You can walk it in 3-4 hours, or rent a bicycle if you prefer, stopping for lunch along the way and perhaps at the excellent Chit Beer microbrewery too. There are no cars on the island and there are umpteen photo-stop opportunities as you snap away at jungle scenes, dilapidated houses and rural folk, each time having to remind yourself how close you are the megalopolis of Bangkok. If you do the circuit, I recommend going in an anti-clockwise direction to avoid the sole touristy part of the island – the market – until the end.
The final pick is another riverine destination, this time about an hour’s drive south of Bangkok. Amphawa boasts two visitor features in particular, and a delightfully lazy ambience in general. The tourist attractions are a floating market quite unlike the one (Damnoen Saduak) that the vast majority of tourists visit, and the spectacle of abundant fireflies lighting up the riverside trees at night. The market, which only operates at weekends, offers goods more typical of a Thai shopping destination, and at more reasonable prices, than Damnoen Saduak. It also opens in the evening, which might be preferable for many to the cripplingly early start required to make it to Damnoen Saduak. It also times nicely so that after perusing the market, you can hop aboard a tour boat to witness the magical firefly show. Accommodation is typically riverside homestays, which adds to the authenticity and tranquility.
Disclaimer: I don’t even begin to claim this is an exhaustive list. I have barely been to half of the country’s provinces. This is merely a list of my own experiences, so no need to ask me why I didn’t put such-and-such in. Feel free to add your own favourites in the comments, though.
Filed under: Culture, Sport, Thai news | Tags: Bang Khen, Bangkok, bats, Beer, betting, boxing, cats, Chanachai Nuantongsnooker, Culture, gambling, Lumpinee Boxing Stadium, Lumpini, monsoon, mosquitoes, muay Thai, Petchboonchu Porplaboonchu, Petmorakot Vor Sangprapai, Rajadamnern Stadium, Ram Intra, Ratchadamnoen, Saenchai, Saenchai PK Saenchaimuaythaigym, Saenchai Sor Kingstar, Singtongnoi Por Telakul, Sport, sports betting, Thai boxing, Thai culture, Thailand, tiger balm, tourism, tourists, WBC, wrestling, Yod ET PTT Tontavee
One of the world’s most iconic sports venues closed last Friday, with the ringing of the final bell for Bangkok’s Lumpinee Boxing Stadium.
Opened in 1956, Lumpinee would go on to rival the older Rajadamnern Stadium in terms of prestige, both as a venue and a championship (the championships of Lumpinee and Rajadamnern stadiums are among the most respected in the sport). However, I always preferred Lumpinee. My first visit there remains one of the most vivid cultural memories I have had.
Back in 2005, while backpacking with my step-brother Andy, we attended a Lumpinee fight card just days into our two-month stint in Thailand. On a budget, we opted for the cheapest tickets, the so-called third-class section, and we were so glad we did. Continue reading
Filed under: Culture, Expat life, Nightlife, Outside Thailand, People, restaurants, Travel | Tags: animals, art, Australian people, backpackers, backpacking, Bahasa Indonesia, Bali, Bali Hai, Bali Hai beer, Bali Museum, Balinese dance, Balinese food, Balinese girls, Balinese people, Bangkok, barbecue, bars, beaches, Beer, Brazilian Aussie BBQ, breakfast, buffet. Sky Garden, cafes, chilli, coffee, costume, dance, Denpasar, Deva Sari, drink, English language, Flora Hotel, food, Food and Drink, forest, gueshouse, Hindu temples, Hinduism, hotels, Indonesia, Indonesian food, Indonesian girls, Indonesian people, Islam, Islamic clothes, islands, jungle, kebabs, Kuningan Day, Kuta, Kuta Beach, Laughing Buddha bar, macaques, markets, masks, massage, monkeys, motorbikes, mountains, Muang Phuket, museums, Muslims, Napa Orti, Nightlife, painting, palace, Pasar Badung, Pasar Seni, Patong, people, Phuket, Pura Jagatnatha, Pura Taman Suraswati, rainforest, religion, Renon, resorts, restaurants, rice, Sacred Monkey Forest, Sanghyang Widi, Sanur, shopping, souvenirs, steak, temples, Thai food, Thai language, Thai people. Thai girls, Thailand, tourism, Travel, Ubud, Ubud Palace, Warung Ijo, white people
Last month I travelled to Bali, Indonesia, in what was primarily a social visit, as I have a friend who lives and works there. It hadn’t really occurred to me to visit Bali before, being that is an uber-touristy destination, but I figured that I would see more than beaches and bars with the combination of a local friend and my own inquisitive style of travelling. And so it was. As expected, the main tourist area of Kuta didn’t hold my attention, but some other parts of the island – unfortunately time constraints limited me to the south – were charming.
My thoughts on what I saw of Bali are as follows. It is not a chronological travelogue; more like a scrapbook of impressions and recommendations. Continue reading
Filed under: Culture, Expat life, Fun, Nightlife, Outside Thailand, People | Tags: Bangkok, beauty, Beer, bread, BTS, carrots, Chang Beer, clothes, cons, Europe, European beer, expats, food, happy hour, Heineken, Ireland, Irish bars, Khao San Road, light skin, London, maps, prostitutes, prostitution, red light district, Singha beer, skytrain, Sukhumvit, Sukhumvit Road, sunburn, Thai, Thai business, Thai culture, Thai food, Thai language, Thai people, Thailand, tourism, tourists, vampires, weather, Western food, women, work
Everybody needs somebody… to look down on, and few lifeforms get less respect than the lowly tourist. In Bangkok, they are easy to spot – bright pink skin, dripping in sweat, wearing a Chang Beer T-shirt and scratching their heads over folding maps and the BTS ticketing system. Tourists are naïve, vulnerable, confused and trusting – everything that the noble expat is not! But to the average Thai conman and opportunist, every foreigner is a potential tourist, and to every tourist, anyone of their same colour is likely one of their kin. But the resident farang is a wiser, nobler and all-round higher class of foreigner, and we must flaunt our status with our behaviour and habits. However, this is something that can only be cultivated over time, with experience – unless you consult my handy guide to…
10 WAYS EXPATS CAN AVOID BEING MISTAKEN FOR TOURISTS
Filed under: Culture, Expat life, Health, News, Nightlife, People, politics, Relationships, restaurants, Thai news, Travel | Tags: 7-Eleven, anti-government protests, antibiotics, Bangkok, beach, Beer, Benz Bungalows, Buddhism, children, Chinese, condominiums, crab, diarrhoea, dogs, English language, fast food, food, goats, Gulf of Thailand, Hat Thampang, Hat Thampang Bungalows, hospital, hotels, Hua Hin, Isaan, islands, Ko Sichang, Malee Blue, May 19, monastery, motorbikes, nighclubs, palaces, Pan & David Restaurant, Paree Hut, Pattaya, politics, rabies, Rama V, Red Shirts, restaurants, salad, seafood, shops, Sri Racha, swimming, temples, Thai culture, Thai language, Thai people, Thai politics, Thailand, Travel, tuk-tuks, whale
Thailand’s image needs all the help it can get right now. Last month’s dramatic footage of bomb sites and gun fights across Bangkok played out internationally and many countries have yet to lift their travel warnings to the erstwhile Land of Smiles.
For sure, confidence has been rocked, and even beyond the photos of war on the streets, the reputation of Thai people as gentle, benevolent Buddhists has been tarnished by displays of downright ugly behaviour during such fractious times.
Whether the protesters promising – and almost succeeding – to turn Bangkok into a “sea of fire”, or their opponents cheering and swearing as the death toll neared a hundred, there was precious little positive humanity on display.