Monday, 3 September 2012

Top Thailand Tips

I certainly don’t profess to be some sort of expert on the subject - far from it in fact - but I thought it might be good to share some of my experiences in Thailand and what I found worked for us (and what didn’t). Being a first time visitor to Thailand I found the advice of those who’d been before extremely useful and having holidayed in this beautiful location myself now, I thought I’d share any words of wisdom I may have to offer too.

One of my first concerns on visiting Thailand, and in fact something that had put me off before, was safety. This is not an issue. Providing you use some common sense – the same as you would when travelling anywhere you’re not familiar with – you’ll be fine. In beach locations there are people selling the usual tourist tat (although to be honest I loved a lot of it!) but if you simply smile and say no thank you they WILL leave you alone. Thai people are not pushy.
When you’re on the beach and want to go in the sea and leave your valuables – again it’s fine – wherever I go I just secure my beach bag and put it under my beach towel. This seemed to work fine in Thailand too.
Everywhere you go you are made to feel welcome and safe, obviously if you decide to venture to the more ‘trashy’ areas keep your belongings close and avoid eye contact if you don’t want to be pulled into any dodgy strip bars or clubs. Try and work out costs and what’s involved before you just walk on into a venue.
As you probably know Thailand is very popular with tourists so you won’t struggle with language at all, the majority of Thai people where you’re likely to visit can speak great English and often signs are in Thai and English. Often hotels will give you a card which has their address on in Thai, when we landed in Bangkok one of the desk staff wrote out our hotel address out for us in Thai to give to the cab driver just in case their English wasn’t so strong.
People say Thailand is the land of smiles and they are not wrong – nothing is too much trouble and you will always be met with a bow and a greeting (typically ‘Sawadee’)
As a mark of respect Thai people will take their shoes off a lot, even when showing you round your room or cleaning it you’ll find shoes outside the door before entering. In some restaurants and shops you’ll find this is the way too, so make sure you keep an eye out for signs, so as not to offend.

It obviously depends what sort of trip you’re on, and this advice is purely focussed on a similar type of experience as I had (not staying in hostels/backpacking, but by the same token not staying in the fanciest, luxurious of locations). We found food portions were very big. You often don’t need a starter or if you do get one to share.
Most Thai dishes are very spicy. A lot of restaurants will ask you if you want your dish milder or not. I would recommend you say yes. I like a bit of spice in my food, but so I can enjoy it and it flavours the dish. On our first meal in Bangkok I ordered a speciality of the restaurant but it was described as a coconut curry, it brought tears to my eyes and sweat on my face – it was hot! You will also find as your holiday moves on you’ll adapt to the spice.

We took around £300 each spending money in Thai baht with us and then took our credit and debit cards with to pay for trips/draw out cash when needed. There are lots of ATMs about, although you may find they often limit the number of notes you’re allowed – we found it best to select the tourist ATMs which had pre-defined amounts on them and were easier to get cash from.
Eating out is great value, particularly if you opt for traditional Thai food, you will get super cheap food.
Drinks wise - A bottle of beer you can normally get for around £1, a large bottle for £1.50-£2, cocktails are normally in happy hours and are about £3 or so. Wine is a tad dearer at about £4.50-£5 a glass. You can get coconut milk out of a fresh coconut for really cheap on the beaches, or buy big bottles of water from supermarkets for like 30p. Most hotels give you complimentary bottles of water each day anyway.
It is not standard to tip and you’ll find if you do you’ll be met with such gratefulness and shock. We’re not typically huge tippers and I only like to do so when I feel service has been really great, I hate customary tipping for the sake of it. On a few occasions we gave a (very small) tip to various hotel staff or cab drivers and they were so surprised and really pleased.

Again this varies hugely depending on what you’re after. For what we were after – a mix of relaxation, visiting places and being first timers to Thailand we wanted a bit of a mixture but somewhere we wouldn’t feel overwhelmed.
In Bangkok we stayed in the financial district which meant we were in pleasant surroundings, but were also in a good position to visit the more tourist sightseeing areas. We stayed in the Park Plaza Sukhumvit hotel and could not fault it, check out my review ‘Cannot recommend this hotel enough!’
On Koh Samui we wanted to be on one of the best beaches but not be surrounded with tourists or anything too ‘English’, we stayed in the Kandaburi Resort & Spa which was situated at the very far Northern end area of Chaweng Beach, it was beautiful. Have a look at my review ‘Lovely hotel’
This was in a good location if you wanted to go into Chaweng for more nightlife and it was close to well-known temples such as Big Buddha and areas where you can go on ‘safari’ (visit waterfalls, ride an elephant and so on).
Then finally on Koh Phangan, we wanted to have total relaxation at the end of our trip and so we stayed in the Salad Beach area – highly recommended by a friend of mine. We stayed at Salad Beach Resort – a more basic hotel compared to the other two, but still lovely. Read about it on my review ‘A more basic option but very nice’ If you’re into diving this is a very good place to stay as it is near one of the best diving areas there apparently.

Places to visit
There are so many places you can go, but here are some of my favourites/recommendations:

Bangkok (so many more places you can see but we only had 2 full days)
Khao San Road – well known backpacking area, great for cheap drinks and a fun night out
Soi Cowboy – offers evening fun of a more ‘trashy’ kind, however this is said to be a tamer area and so good if you want a nose at what this side of Thailand is like but don’t really want to get involved
Jim Thompson’s House – great museum showing traditional Thai architecture and history/information on Thai silk
The Grand Palace – unfortunately we never got in here but we saw some great temples in the surrounding areas
Damnoen Saduak floating market – long way out and an early start, but well worth it to see the floating market ‘stalls’, ride a longtail down the canals and experience the food, drink and trinkets they have on offer, experience being pulled in to the ‘stalls’ by their big hooked poles and see some traditional Thai homes on the riverbank
Benjakiti Park – this is a big park built in the middle of the financial district, built around a huge lake – beautiful

Koh Samui
Big Buddha – huge golden standing Buddha statue, surrounded by temple bells which you can walk round and hit for luck, stunning scenery around it and a little market and shops nearby selling all sorts
Wat Plai Laem – this temple is home to the huge 18-armed Buddha (also referred to by some as the Lady Monk), there are lots of temples in the nearby surroundings which all offer beautiful ornate decorations and statues, there are huge fish in the lakes there too which are a sight to see!
Island Safari – I would really recommend the trip we went on a half day trip with Island Safari tours. This was due to be 5 hours, but were out for over 6 hours, great value, you experience: elephant trekking, elephant show, monkey show, Thai boxing demo, rubber plantation, rice fields and ox and cart ride, Thai cooking demo, Namuang Waterfall, photo with a tiger (extra cost), fish spa and they also give you lots of free bottled water and a refreshing plate of watermelon, then once you are at the waterfall you get a yummy Thai lunch (drinks not included). Pick up and drop off direct from your hotel and all for approx. £30 pp.
Where we stayed on the beach I’d recommend Your Place for great food and the best place for after dinner drinks and a fire show on the beach.

Koh Pha Ngan
To be honest all we did here was relax and chill! But if you’re not staying there you must go visit, it is beautiful and so peaceful and quiet!
On our last night we did go to a Thai boxing match which was great – all the family can go and all the locals turn up and place bets, it was great fun. We went to the Thong Sala ‘stadium’.
I’d really recommend Salad Hut for lunch or dinner – great food and drink, huge portions and good prices and super friendly service.
The tuk tuk massage hut on the beach was very good value and very friendly too, I felt like I was floating after my 60mins Thai massage
Sunset Bar is a super chilled out bar at the end of Salad Beach, but then most bars there are – relaxing lights, hammocks, relaxing padded pillow seats to lie on…

Everywhere is so laid back you don’t need to be super organised to stay here…
You can pre-organise hotel pick-ups from the airport or ferry ports, but I would recommend just sorting it when you get there, there are always plenty of taxis wherever you are
I booked our ferry trips before we went, again in popular times I guess it’s best to have booked your ferry before BUT I am sure you can book it when you are out there and be sure you know exactly how far you are from the ports – we had about 3 hours to kill at Bang Rak Pier when travelling from Koh Samui to Koh Pha Ngan!
All trips you can definitely sort when in Thailand and try and look for the best deal – also remember some places you can visit yourself and likely don’t need to be through an organised trip
Whenever we asked how much a taxi ride would cost we were told 500 baht (about £10), they never ever seemed to be this much and there are various ways to get around – tuk tuks are great and the cheapest option (if a little hairy at times!), on a lot of the islands their versions of taxis you have to climb into and they have no back (again a fun way to get around if a little daunting at first if you’re a worrier like me!)

We stayed in August and on looking at the weather in Thailand we saw it was within ‘monsoon’ season. If you do the same do not worry, the east side of the islands (Koh Samui, Koh Pha Ngan and Koh Tao) are the driest during this time. We had minimal rain when were there – about 10 minutes one afternoon on Koh Pha Ngan and about 15-20 mins one evening there. Similarly for Bangkok we experienced a little rain when we were out and about one day and then one day whilst we were eating breakfast. It rains quickly and dries up quickly and at most places – as with the sea – the rain is warm! You’ll never feel cold!

Wherever you go you’re bound to have a great time. I panic a lot and am overly organised and even I found I totally unwound, took things as they came and just generally chilled out. You’ll soon find yourself bowing and smiling continuously like the locals and just remember to be patient if at times some people struggle to understand what you mean. And once you see the stunning scenery and relax in that heat all your worries and real life will melt away and be quickly forgotten…

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