Renowned as a travelers paradise, Thailand should not be overlooked for any type of break, be it backpacking, holiday, honeymoon, stag do, diving, or just a simple week away in the sun. Thailand is the mecca of commercialism and the shining beacon of South East Asia’s revert to capitalism. Now don’t let that put you off, it’s also home to some amazing beaches, friendly/welcoming locals, contrasting activities and immense natural beauty. I have known people who visit and never return or continuously return year on year. I have yet to meet a traveler who said they didn’t like any of it.
My wife continues to be somewhat of an enigma to me, as she loves to travel but has no interest whatsoever in going to Thailand, and I have no idea why. She loved Malaysia and Indonesia, and would happily visit Korea, Myanmar, Bhutan, so why not Thailand? This still remains an unanswered question.
My first experience of Thailand was just that of Bangkok in 2005, and apart from one crazy night I wasn’t enamoured. This being said, I did return with a few friends in 2009 and that’s where I really saw what Thailand had to offer.
A close childhood friend of mine and two previous traveling companions all decided to meet up and travel the south of Thailand, including a few well known islands. These consisted of Koh Phi Phi. Koh Samui, Koh Phangan, Koh Tao and the mainland towns of Phuket and Krabi. The one thing you have to get used to very quickly is the sex trade and shows, it is in many of these locations I have listed here, but with a little bit of sense can be avoided.
Apart from that, the islands of Thailand have a lot to offer including golden sand beaches, warm tropical waters, vast luscious jungles, freshly made cuisine, tropical weather, abundant wildlife and of course massive parties. What also draws in the backpacker community especially is the fact it is cheap, when I last visited I could’ve survived for a month on a couple of hundred pounds/dollars. This all depends on time of year where you stay, but if you compare a 4 star hotel anywhere in Europe to Thailand you’ll see the differences. I’ve also always found the local Thai people very welcoming and friendly, however I do know recently that some tragic events have occurred on some of these islands. As a frequent traveler, this can happen anywhere and I wouldn’t let it put you off just stay vigilant and safe.
The wandering memory I wanted to share was actually of one of my travelling companions, however is priceless.
We arrived in Phuket and were staying in one of the most hideous hostel buildings I think I had ever experienced; it was dark, dingy and very hot! Granted you usually get what you pay for, and we had paid VERY little for our own little crap-hole here. We headed out to the main street in Phuket and were immediately approached by the ‘show boys’ on either side of the street inviting us for all sorts of sordid shows. Politely declining we continued down the road towards the beach; gagging which bars were sensible for us to visit and making a mental note which ones to avoid.
The beach at the end of the road was packed and actually reminded me of some of the Spanish beach resorts we had experienced at a younger age. It was nice enough, but it was nothing special, in fact it was just a beach, and we did experience much better beaches as our trip progressed. Feeling the heat of the day, which left us craving air conditioning, we nipped into a local bar on the strip that was locally run, but had no poles in sight!
We immediately hit it off with the local barmaids who were very friendly and started a war of Connect4, yes how cool are we? We were met by Stuart and Shannon momentarily afterwards who joined in with the festivities. Getting your arse kicked at Connect4 by the locals, while reminiscing with old friends, was a very surreal experience. Occasionally it did get pretty heated, but we did notice that the more drinks we had, the worse we all got at Connect4. As the night progressed, we were offered a bag of fried crickets (local delicacy). I love to try new things when traveling and this was far too much of a challenge to say no. So crickets were quickly devoured, I may have to admit to enjoying them a bit too much, but then again that may have been the drink.
It is a common misconception that every Thai girl working in a bar is on the game, this is simply not true, and although a few of our new found friends were cute, we never thought of it like this. We were simply a group of friends catching up, drinking, laughing and enjoying ourselves. To our horror the bar closed early and we were ushered out onto the street, very inebriated and did end up in the outsides of a dance club.
From here, it was clear that Stuart, who referred to himself as ‘Beer Monkey’, had a few too many and was a tad tipsy. Who am I kidding, tipsy – he was battered, hammered, bladdered, pissed… I think you get the point.
So at 4 am in the morning after losing yet another game of Connect4, we all went our separate ways. Beer Monkey hitched a lift with what he thought was a taxi driver, ending up on the outskirts of town watching TV with the driver’s family. Coming out of his drunken haze, he found himself in a house he didn’t recognise with people he didn’t know. What do you do when that happens? well, you leg it right? and yes, that is exactly what he did, picking up the wrong pair of shoes on his way out of the house. So walking down the road bare footed, he was spotted by another local cab and luckily this time he ended up his hotel.
Entering his plush hotel, he looked around for his backpack which had his wallet and passport inside, and to his dread, it wasn’t there. He tore the room apart looking everywhere for the bag that contained his priceless documents and gadgets. This extreme fear this situation fills you with is horrendous, it’s like a sinking feeling in your stomach. I can attest to that in my ‘The unanswered question’ blog. The room was locked, the hotel was guarded, he must have left it at the bar… But how did he pay for the last few cabs? Well that didn’t cross his mind as he raced down the stairs, got into another cab and screamed to be taken to the police station.
Again – how was he to pay for this cab? Upon arriving at the police station an epic argument endured, with Stuart protesting that he had lost his backpack and all his money was in it. The cab driver rightly was getting very angry and as he approached Stuart, Stuart ran into the police station.
The police station was very quiet, no surprise at 5am in the morning; a few officers were sleeping on the benches in the lounge while he could see some of the other’s asleep in the adjacent rooms. One did have the courtesy to greet him and ask what he required at this ungodly hour… Stuart went into detail of how he’d lost his backpack it had everything in it, it may have been stolen, he was a British National and he could be stuck here indefinitely. Stuart is a big guy, I’d guess at 6ft 5 inches easily, and he is a bit theatrical too, so I have always pictured this moment as a drunken giant flapping his arms about, raising his voice, and trying to portray the seriousness of the situation to this poor tiny, half-asleep Thai police officer.
The reaction from the Thai police was lack lustre and very unbothered, he said ranted a lot of words Stuart didn’t understand, but definitely using the term idiot and arsehole – a bit harsh you may think…
Well here’s where the story takes a twist, Stuart did return to his hotel, walking this time to save any further unpaid taxi situations. Stirring from his drunken slumber, there miraculously was none other than his backpack, sitting next to his bed. Elation suddenly overtook him as he dived for the bag to find, his wallet, cell phone and passport all safely tucked away in the bag.
So how had this happened? How had his bag ended up next to him?
The answer – It was on his back the whole time… Yes seriously, he was so intoxicated that his fear had overwhelmed him and he couldn’t listen to reason of the cab driver or the police when they were trying to tell him.
Stuart was very quiet for the majority of our time in Phuket, and as we picked up a lift from an American yacht owner to the idyllic islands of Phi Phi of which I will blog about another time.