Asia, Thailand, Travel

A Family Holiday in Phuket

The first time I went to Thailand was with a family holiday at Christmas to Phuket after a short trip to Bangkok in 2004. Little did I know I would be returning 10 years later as a backpacker, exploring many of the other islands and what Thailand has to offer, as well as inland. Our visit was pre tsunami and so, the scenery and infrastructure have changed somewhat.

Heading away from the main area of Patpong, my family and I stayed at the Sheraton Bangtaou, on the south coast. It is a lovely hotel (or was), where lilies and lemon grass scents greet guests and perfectly planned pools and entertainment for kids are arranged (such as a daily visit from a baby elephant). Although organized well, this hotel is massive and so brings this large complex feel to it. However, being young and new to the gorgeous Thai beaches and Thai Food- I loved it. Getting oily massages on the beach listening to the waves of the sea, quad biking through the jungle and riding an elephant were my highlights. I remember being disgusted by the elephant I was to ride because of the treatment towards the poor elephant and the chains it was put in. It is a shame that in the present day, and from my recent trip to Thailand, nothing has changed.

A family holiday in Phuket- yes thats me!

Patong is more commonly known as “sin city” and it is quite obvious when visiting why it is titled so. Seeing skimpily dressed Santa’s helpers stand on street corners, dancers wrap their legs up in the air along metal poles and everything fake, “but real I swear” under the sun for sale- was an eye opener for an 11 year old. Our family did not stay here, rather hurrying back to the safe and calm sanctuary of our resort. Walking along the streets and drinking in the bars, is an experience in itself and when visiting Phuket, I implore you to visit here to catch a glimpse of this world revelled in debauchery and consumerism. Many books have been written about the underworld of Patong and I am sure there are many people you should avoid at dark alleyways at night- when visiting make sure you have your wits about you when darkness falls.

Already quad biking when I was a youngster in Phuket!

Phuket for me, is an island created for family holidays, or rather, it now has been transformed for that. With its pristine shores, fancy restaurants, large resorts and safe beaches, it makes an easy option for families who want to travel. If you have a young family, a trip here would be perfect, as Koh Samui is more suited for couples, however, if you are a backpacker or even a flashpacker- avoid Phuket.

The hotel elephant in Phuket

Asia, Thailand, Travel

Bangkok- the city that doesn’t sleep much.

Bangkok is a living, breathing person. She is a hybrid of people, culture, colour and life. People come, people go, and some live there for ever, trapped in the same jobs seeing the same happenings every day. What most people notice when they arrive in Bangkok is the sheer volume of people, and of course, the smog. Because of its hectic roads filled with all types of vehicles; taxis, Lorries, tuk tuks, buses, coaches, horses and carts (they produce a different kind of smog) it creates a type of air pollution that one notices almost immediately. Although many people dislike Bangkok due to its hectic atmosphere- even those that are born there- I would recommended to go and experience life in Bangkok, the happening capital of South East Asia. Throughout my travels, my buddy and I had to return to Bangkok frequently to travel to various areas, and so our experiences and understanding grew every time.

BangkokWe became accustomed to the smog; the pestering tuk tuk drivers with their overpriced fares, their cheeky trips to travel offices for free petrol, the advised stops at fake gem shops, the shouts of YOLO from backpackers in Koh San Road with horrific new tattoos plastered on their bodies, the amount of rubbish and rats on the street, the strut of lady boys eyeing up potential customers, the street sellers shoving material in your face and shouting “you buy you buy”, the whiff of cheap Phad Thai from street vendors, and of course the random and well trained pickpockets. But don’t let this put you off. No this is Bangkok and will always be how Bangkok is.

BangkokWe stayed mainly on Koh San Road, not the heart of real Bangkok, but the heart of backpackers Bangkok. Walking down the strip at night with the glare of the fluorescent lighting from clubs, the shouts from bars, the food vendors, and the clothes stalls all sporting the same pattern always will amuse me, because as soon as you step away from Koh San Road, you meet the true Bangkok.

True Bangkok is filled with beautiful dazzling temples that you must venture into and explore, due to each one’s individual and intricate designs that just blow you away. There are many temples- although I would advise you to stick to the main ones, as it can take hours to traipse round just one. Also take the water ferry, (don’t get an expensive boat ride but the local ferry) across the waters to Wat Arun, another temple that shouldn’t be missed because of its unique style in comparison to other temples- it looks like a jigsaw of iconic ornate tiles that cover the monument, and its perfect riverside location. After checking out the stunning Grand Palace, Wat Pho and Wat Saket (all impressive masterpieces in gold), we went and explored China Town. China town in Bangkok is the best China town I have been to. It isn’t one or two streets with a couple of restaurants, like London’s poor effort of China Town, no this is a whole district with street names in Chinese and a way of life. I would recommend wandering around the streets, we found ourselves in a never ending market with sections for fabric, shoes, electrical’s, home goods, clothes and of course food. China town in Bangkok is an experience not to be missed.

Chinatown ChinatownOn our final visit to Bangkok and thinking of gifts to take home for the family, we went to one of Bangkok’s largest shopping malls: Siam Discovery and Siam Paradigm. These malls were massive. Massive. Floors and floors of various shops, cafes, restaurants, entertainment complexes, and cinemas filled the space. This was the Bangkok that was most well-known by the Thai, the luxurious and extravagant Bangkok filled with high skyscrapers and expensive hotels. Stepping into an air conditioned shopping mall filled with designer clothes made me recognise the ignorance many backpackers have of Bangkok, and so to really experience Bangkok I recommend you see all areas.

BangkokMany recommend the Chatuchak market in Bangkok which is held on the weekends, it is supposed to be the largest and craziest market in Asia, and unfortunately we were never there at the right time to experience it. What we did manage to experience on our first night (fortunately or not) was a ping pong show. Taken to a discreet part of Thailand with blacked out windows and dodgy men at the door, we were taken into a club with a central focus of a podium with poles surrounding it. What I saw that night, I really wasn’t expecting to see, especially who was in the audience: drunk backpackers, couples and large groups of Asian men on business trips, which made me feel even more awkward and uncomfortable. Looking at the woman in the show, she looked bored and tired. Who could blame her? Working day in day out, for a small amount of money to send home to her family, by the sex industry. I was disgusted at myself for supporting this industry, where women and men are treated as sexual objects, a form of entertainment to rich tourists. I would really insist to all visitors to not go to one of these shows, and further support the sex industry, we need to treat each individual human being with respect.

My number one top tip for Bangkok is: keep your wits about you but fully immerse yourself in the hustle and bustle of Bangkok.

 

Asia, Thailand, Travel

Too short a time in Chang Mai

Chang Mai is a haven for art, nature and religion nestled in the north, and demonstrates another aspect of Thailand. Chang Mai oozes this cosmopolitan ambience that is confined behind the crumbling walls of its historical fort. The business of a city contrasts with the rolling mountains in the background, calling all nature lovers to come closer and trek deep into the dense jungle. The city hums with life, with character and art, as temples cry out in prayer or light the darkness of night by their glittering candles.

You can easily spend a number of days here in Chang Mai, soaking up the atmosphere and culture of the place and people, without noticing time has drifted past. The most popular reason many tourists flock north, avoiding the densely touristic islands and smoggy sweltering Bangkok, is to do a trek deep into the jungle. Make sure you research well and choose a trek, purely for its trek, and how knowledgeable the guide is. Thus, you can stay a night or two with a local village, and spend days hacking your own path through the jungle. There is much competition and packages on offer, advertising white water rafting (which is a float down a stream), elephant rides- with elephants who are ill treated and the rides short lived, and “village excursions” to isolated shops. Don’t fall into the trap of time restraints and be wise with your options.

Cooking classes in Chang Mai are also extremely popular. Here, pick your choice of ingredients at the local market where you can test your bartering skills with the local people and actually feel the vegetables yourself, choosing the perfect accompaniments for your dish. After returning from the market, following your teacher, you cook at your own individual stations, after pounding; grinding, mashing and bashing everything possible to form the perfect blend of spices to your dish. The class is five dishes worth, so food is a plenty and all is shared with one another- allowing you to learn from other cookery students on how they differed to your final product, and the variation in technique. I did it with Banyan Thai Cooking Class, whom I cant recommend any more, they give you a lovely little book filled with recipes and insights into local foods.

The night life in Chang Mai was interesting. The area where most watering holes are based, is far away from the town centre. Old woman pester you with smiles to buy their rude and vulgar bracelets, whilst you sit under hanging branches of trees and swinging lights. You really feel a buzz in the atmosphere and dance floors are filled with welcoming people.

We stayed in Julie’s Guesthouse, a hub for travellers and perfect for any backpackers on a budget. Rooms are basic but are all brightened up by various licks of paint and hip pictures creating a homely feel.

Asia, Thailand, Travel

A spot of culture in Kanchanburi

Not many backpackers who travel in Thailand venture to Kanchanburi. The lack of well known bars and hostels, as well as veering off the well-treaded stops in Thailand seems to scare many. Kanchanburi is a sleepy town where many large Asian tour buses breeze speedily in and out on day trips to catch a glimpse at the Kwai River, famous for its role in the blockbuster: ‘The Bridge on The River Kwai’. The most popular group of tourists that come here are families that have left the beach behind to explore more of what Thailand has to offer, and so they should, as Thailand has much more to offer than beaches.

Kanchanburi Arriving in Kanchanburi to find the weather perfect, was a delight after a long bus journey. Explore the inner depths of the town of Kanchanburi by bicycle, allowing yourself to speed past the calls of tuk tuk drivers and feel a nice cool breeze amongst your face as you whiz through streets. I recommend visiting the Burma Thailand Railway Centre, it offers interesting scope about Kanchanburi’s role in history, how its location affected its journey as a town, and its relevance to society today. Walk on to the famous River Kwai Bridge, balancing yourself on the bridge and wander at the life on the river below and around you.

A must visit is the Erawan Waterfalls, my favourite waterfalls in Asia. Taking the local bus is a fraction of the price with what you would pay in a tuk tuk, and visiting the waterfalls outside a tour group meant we could spend as long as we wanted there. The waterfalls have seven tiers and the climb gets steeper and steeper on each level, but more and more beautiful. Sadly we only made it to the 5th tier, but I am happy enough seeing the change of cascading waterfalls and cool blue rock pools vary in size and shape. I warn you, when swimming in the pools; the fish like to nibble your skin! Shocking at first but quite a pleasant sensation after a while (I only let them nibble my toes meaning getting a free pedicure!) On the first tier be careful, as there are some very mischievous monkeys. Used to the tourists presence, they are not afraid to approach you and steal things from your bag thinking its food, forever losing your valuables to a monkey. So keep a watchful eye!

KanchanburiA popular sight visited by many is Tiger Temple, an attraction in Kanchanburi that creates much debate. Although a centre for the Tigers to benefit from and blossom in a safe environment created by monks, many believe the cruelty and injustice these animals suffer from do not make this attraction justifiable. Walking around the empty areas full of friendly cows, we found the main attraction, getting your picture taken with a variety of tigers all chained up and comatosed up to their eyeballs disheartening and disgusting. It is unjustifiable to see these magnificent creatures, these strong and agile animals of prey, medicated for a tourists satisfaction, to be used as a play thing and prop.The situation made me sad and sorrowful, I’m upset that I have been yet another tourist for that organisation to gain money from and so I advise all tourists against visiting this place, rather seeing these animals as they are, animals, in their rightful place- the wild.

Go to the local market in the evening and sample freshly cooked food on offer and at very cheap prices. Although there isn’t anywhere to sit, it is perfectly acceptable to stuff your face on the street corner, as many others do, wiping the thick spicy sauce off your face and eyeing up more dishes to conquer at the same time.

KanchanburiThere are a number of small bars and drinking dens where western old men sit with very young local prostitutes, which can be an uncomfortable sight to see. We headed to the perfect backpacker bar: Kiki’s Bar. Kiki’s bar is made up of one stall with bottles of rum and whisky on top of the bar, priced at 5p a drink- only served in shots- and with paint boxes to sit on. Although not the most elegant bar, this meant getting to know Kiki herself, her regular customers and ridiculously cheap drinks. I’d recommend this bar to all who want a hilarious night and to really merge in with the local style of drinking, (no posh cocktails or mixers here).