After Kuala Lumpur, I flew up to Chiang Mai – the biggest city in northern Thailand – to meet up with my friend Guy from university. We spent a few days there and then hopped over the border to Laos. Then, a month later, after visiting Laos and Vietnam, I came back to Thailand to explore Bangkok (Thailand’s big capital city) and Koh Phangan (one of Thailand’s tropical islands). I was joined in Bangkok by Kathleen (a fellow traveller from my India/Nepal tour) and my mate Dave from Seattle, who also came to Koh Phangan with me. I have combined all segments of my Thailand trip into one blog… because I can. I’m in charge here.
I was expecting Thailand to be a lot dodgier than it actually was, but it turned out to be super pleasant – well, at least Chiang Mai and Bangkok were super pleasant. Then again, after visiting India, anything seems pleasant. While Thailand has more than its fair share of scams and potentially bad tourist situations, the government has put up signs everywhere encouraging tourists to be vigilant about falling victim to scams and other dodgy deeds. This really seemed to work in both Chiang Mai and Bangkok as I don’t recall seeing any scammers or other sketchy characters, though I did have one taxi driver try to pull a fast one on me. He failed miserably.
A few highlights of my time in Thailand:
The gateway to northern Thailand, Chiang Mai didn’t have any major tourist sites that stood out, but the city itself was just very pleasant. The people were super friendly, it was easy to get around (the traffic wasn’t terrible), and there were some great eats and night markets to occupy our evenings. Guy and I explored three small local museums (all of which were short, sweet, and quite informative) and many temples (as one does in Thailand). All of the temples were conveniently located in the city with the exception of Wat Doi Suthep, which was located in the hills just outside the city. Aside from being a large, impressive complex, Wat Doi Suthep offered great views of the city from its high perch.
Bangkok was a super cool city, though I could live without the excessively hot and humid weather. It’s also massive and I wish I had a lot more than my four days there to explore this metropolis. But, as with all places, I did as much as I could without exhausting myself too much. I had to visit some temples (because you have to in Thailand) and I chose the three most important ones: Wat Pho (with its massive reclining Buddha), Wat Phra Kaew (attached to the Grand Palace), and Wat Arun (which required a nice little ferry across the river). I also hit up two very interesting museums. The first, the Museum of Siam, tells the history of Thailand from ancient times up to the modern day. Unlike most museums in this part of Asia, the Museum of Siam was well-curated, very informative, and made many of the exhibits very interesting. It was definitely a highlight of my time in Bangkok. The Jim Thompson House Museum is the quirky home of an American expat who used to be in the silk business. He mysteriously disappeared several decades ago – some theorize that the CIA killed him due to his anti-American views – and his house was turned into a museum. Like the Museum of Siam, this was super well-done and another major highlight of my time in Bangkok.
Shopping is another massive part of the Bangkok experience. While there are many, many malls in Bangkok, I didn’t really shop in any of them (but I did take advantage of their cheap and delicious food courts!) The market, however, was fucking insane. I had read that Chatuchak Weekend Market was one of the largest markets in the world and I wanted to check it out. Coincidentally, some Thai friends that I had met on the Trans Siberian Railroad two years ago were planning to head to the market the Saturday that I was in town and they invited me along. Yes, please! The market was huge and PHENOMENAL. I had a lot of food there – especially thanks to my mates taking me to some places I would not have considered eating on my own – and just wandered around for hours. The market sold everything (like, everything), but my favourite part was the area of cheap, designer-type clothing. This stuff was so much nicer (and trendier) than what you can get in department stores in either Australia or the USA, and it was a fraction of the price. I bought one pair of shorts but I had to refrain from going overboard. I will go back to Bangkok one day (when I have a job and money again) and will spend an entire weekend just shopping, shopping, shopping for clothes.
Koh Phangan was the opposite experience to the rest of Thailand. It was not pleasant and enjoyable like Chiang Mai, nor was it cool and exciting like Bangkok. It just sort of sucked. The big draw to Koh Phangan is the infamous Full Moon Party. I sort of knew that this wouldn’t be my cup of tea but I was curious to see it anyway. My guide book said that the island also had things to do for people who don’t like the party scene so I thought it would be fun. I was wrong. While the Thai people on the mainland were nothing but super nice, the locals in Koh Phangan seemed a bit spoiled by the tourism and their mission was to take advantage of tourists every chance they got. The other tourists (mainly drunken backpackers) were also pretty terrible. The weather didn’t cooperate for any hiking and we only had one swim at the beach. The Full Moon Party was cool for a little while, but as people got drunker, it got more and more unpleasant. The only redeeming quality of the trip was that we got three massages three days in a row (a Thai massage, foot reflexology, and a deep tissue oil massage). Koh Phangan was really the first place I felt uncomfortable (in a different way to India) and I was super happy when we left.
Put it in my mouth:
Thai food: the national food of Australia. I ate Thai food at least once or twice a week in Australia and I was SUPER EXCITED to eat some real Thai food in Thailand. And let me tell you: there was no disappointed at all. Fresh fruits – like bananas and dragonfruit and mangoes – were everywhere. Noodles – OH THE NOODLES! I had pad Thai and pad see ew, and then I had more pad see ew and some more pad see ew. And I had an iced milk tea with every meal and mango sticky rice with coconut cream after every meal. I had lots of spicy foods including khao sai (a spicy soup) and green curry with chicken. I had chicken in coconut soup milk and fresh spring rolls. And fried spring rolls. And then some more fried spring rolls. And maybe a few more fresh spring rolls. When I decided to switch dessert up a bit, I would forego the mango sticky rice and have coconut ice cream served in an actual coconut shell. And it would be topped with peanuts and sweet corn. And happiness. One of the highlights of the food in Thailand was taking a cooking class at Tomyumthai Cooking School in Chiang Mai – recommend by my friends Della and Eric who went there on their gap year earlier this year. After we visited the local market to pick up ingredients, our little group cooked four courses (appetizers, noodles, curry, and soup!) and ended with… wait for it… more mango sticky rice! Jizztastic!
And, of course, like with all places, I got some Mexican food from a pretty good place in Chiang Mai called Miguel’s. It wasn’t the best, but it was above average for Mexican food when compared to its peers in other non-Mexican/non-American countries.
And that was Thailand. I would be super keen to head back to Bangkok one day for more eating and shopping. As for the islands, well, I’ll give any future trips to other Thai islands a hard miss, though I would definitely be keen to check out some other places on the Thai mainland. In the meantime, I still have three other countries in Southeast Asia to explore, so I’ll head over the border to Laos. But first, let me take a selfie.
To see more photos of my time in Thailand, follow this link: