WARNING: This will be an abnormally long post as I am including a months worth of travel into one publication.
Fast forward nearly two years from when I first contracted the ‘travel bug’ and at the age of 19 I made the decision that I wanted to travel…alone. I had just finished my A Levels, had done relatively well and worked very hard. While my teachers urged me to continue onto University, I needed a break from education and decided to take it to its full extent. I got a full-time job at the local pub, waitressing and doing bar-work and began to save up for my backpacking trip.
In January 2012 I began to research where in the world I wanted to go and ended up booking a Thailand experience with the tour company RealGap for a month in May 2012. Now don’t get me wrong, this was a very expensive way to do backpacking and I didn’t agree with some of the tourist attractions that I had the choice to participate in during my trip. However I was so glad that I used a company like this to book my first travelling experience; especially as I was going abroad alone for the very first time to a part of the world I had never visited. I got provided with a list of names and email addresses of the other people who would be on the trip with me, and in typical me style found as many people as I could on Facebook and created a group so that we could help each other decide what to pack and to share our excitement for our adventure.
Come May 5th and I boarded an Etihad flight to Bangkok, with a two hour stop-over in Abu Dhabi. I arrived apprehensive but excited and was met by our tour guide May, who drove four of us across the city to our hotel which was based right in the hub of Khaosan Road; the backpacking strip of the capital. Throughout the rest of that day more and more people arrived, until our group reached 30. The first 3 days we spent in Bangkok were breathtaking; albeit a bit of a culture shock. Getting used to the sticky humidity that hit highs of 45 degrees, the persistent confrontation of street sellers advertising their wares and the amazing mixture of culture; some traditional and some western was such a massive contrast from the place I had come from. While Khaosan road was a very hectic, westernised strip; a pseudo Kavos of Thailand (that literally partied all night), we still got to experience a great mixture of culture and history during our short time in the capital. It was a long weekend full of temples, floating markets and street food with every single one of my senses alive with new experiences. I found myself in a country I fell in love with instantly, with people that I am lucky enough to still call my friends four years later, and a relaxed attitude to life and travel that I had never harboured before.
From Bangkok we then boarded a coach to our next destination, stopping off at the Erawan National Park en route. This national park boasts a 7-tier waterfall and it is BEAUTIFUL. While very over-populated with Thai nationals and tourists alike in the bottom tiers, the higher up you go the less swimmers you encounter, leaving you to bathe in the crystal clear, refreshingly cold pools relatively undisturbed.
The second place in Thailand we stayed was Kanchanaburi, a town situated in Western Thailand. Our group stayed in a lovely hostel that backed right onto the River Kwai and here we spent a blissful 10 days messing around in the pool and taking advantage of a little bit of luxury after the bustle of Bangkok. Kanchanaburi had some of the most stunning temples I saw in Thailand. Two of my favourites were the temples of Wat Tham Seua with it’s lucky stairway and golden mosaic Buddha and Wat Ban Tham, a cave temple that you enter through the mouth of a dragon.
Kanchanaburi is a not just a pretty face however. It also holds a darker side that must be experienced if you are to ever visit. During World War 2 Japanese forces put prisoners of war and others to hard, harrowing labour. This labour built the Death Railway, a line that ran from Thailand to Myanmar. Visiting the Hellfire Pass and the Thailand-Burma Railway Centre and learning about the awful conditions, the gruelling work, the pain and the hurt that went into this landmark chilled me to the bone. This wondrous country also has it’s past and I think it is so important to know about it. Too many people simply see the beaches and the parties, without digging deeper into what has shaped Thailand into what it is today. For a place full of history, beauty and mystery, Kanchanaburi is definitely the place to see.
From Kanchanaburi our next stop was somewhat more rural. Sangkhlaburi is a town near the borders of Myanmar, is surrounded by forest and seems relatively untouched by tourists. We stayed in a hostel that probably housed more geckos than people and barely any of the residents I met spoke English. Here I truly felt like I had managed to capture the true spirit of Thailand. Walking down to the local market everyday to collect fresh fruit for breakfast, watching the quiet hustle and bustle as people went about their everyday routines. I felt like an intruder into someone else’s world here; a fly on the wall to a more simple and wholesome way of life. One of my favourite moments in this town was when we wondered down to the Mon Bridge, a huge rickety 440m wooden bridge that ran across the river and led to a Mon village on the other side. Walking that bridge was so daunting but I am so glad I did. In 2013 a good chunk of it was destroyed and it does not seem that it will ever be rebuilt.
For the next two weeks we used the town and hostel as a base while visiting and volunteering in various places. In the first week we visited an orphanage, where children from Myanmar had been dumped over the Thai border; supposedly so that they could have a better chance in life. In fact these children faced a life of uncertainty and discrimination; illegal immigrants who would never have official documentation and would always be stuck in a limbo of sorts. The owners of the orphanage had therefore taught these children creative skills in the hope that these would allow them to earn enough to survive in later life; when they would very likely end up on the streets. The talents of some of these children was awe-inspiring and it was such a shame to realise that they would probably never truly be rewarded for these.
The second week was a more adventurous one for us, trekking through the surrounding forests of Sangkhlaburi and staying with a Hill Tribe, who fed us in turn for labour tasks such as farming, fishing and teaching their children English. This was one of my favourite times in my trip as we were so isolated from the modern world. It was just us, nature and a couple of wooden houses. I remember one night laying back and looking up at the sky. I have never seen stars like it, the lack of pollution in the air made those tiny specks of light become almost 3D in the sky. Call me a daydreamer but I could have honestly lived there for the rest of my life quite contently I think.
From Sangkhlaburi we started the arduous journey down to the Island of Ko Pha-Ngan, a 14 hour bus journey followed by a two hour boat. After the wilderness of Sangkhlaburi and the forests, our beach hut resort was welcomed by many. Mac’s Bay Resort is situated on the South West of the island and was the quiet, white sands experience that originally enticed me to Thailand in the first place. With a pool, wooden huts with hammocks and luscious gardens surrounding each of the buildings it really was a touch of luxury. The last week of our trip was spent here, lounging around the pool and paddling in the warm bath that was the sea; finally able to escape from the humidity. By night we spent evenings on the beach where the Full Moon parties happen every month, and while we unfortunately weren’t there for the actual event we were still able to feel the ‘Full Moon Fever’ of the location, often not returning until the early hours. During this week a boat trip took us out to visit more secluded islands, many of which were uninhabited and dense with wilderness. Once again the tourism and untouched nature of Thailand remained side by side, enabling us to have a real insight into the true beauty that this part of the globe holds.
Fast forward to the end of our trip and ended up back in Bangkok for one more night of madness before heading to the airport to go our separate ways. Emotional goodbyes ensued both to those I had travelled with and Thailand itself; vowing to always return.
This trip taught me a lot. I made friends for life, had the time of my life, and became acutely aware of a completely different culture; which I fell in love with wholeheartedly. Four years later I still find myself talking about it animately, excited to talk to anyone and everyone about it at any given opportunity. My travels in 2017 will be dominantly situated in South East Asia for this very reason. Thank you Thailand, for giving me memories for life!
If you have any questions about this trip please do ask and I will try and answer the best I can, however I’m sure a lot has changed in the 4 years since I have been! I would also love to hear from you if you loved Thailand as much as I did!