The Wizardess of Oz

An American's Adventures in Australia and Beyond

Category: Thailand (page 2 of 2)

Travel Tips for Thailand

I thought I’d collate and collect my top travel tips based on my visit to Thailand and share them for anyone considering a visit! Here they are below:

Overall:

Maintain an attitude of friendly suspicion, always. Most times the locals are looking to make a buck, so question everything but be polite unless circumstances dictate otherwise.

For example:

Insist on using the meter in the taxi wherever possible. If you are in a heavily tourist area of Bangkok (i.e. Khao San Road when the bars close down) you may have to walk several blocks to find a taxi that will do this. If you prefer not to bother, know that you can negotiate, but will still have to pay more than a metered fare. Know how much the fare is normally and don’t pay more than 2x.

– Near the temples in Bangkok you will be accosted by men who will tell you that they are closed for the day, closed to tourists, etc. They will mention that they know of some other great thing to see instead. This is never true, it’s a scam that is used to get you into a custom suit shop or something similar because the drivers have a deal with the business owners to get paid for every person they bring into the store. Unless you are at an official ticket window for the attraction and it has a sign that says “closed,” assume the attraction is open.

Transportation in Thailand:

– Most domestic flights Bangkok (i.e. Bangkok to Phuket, Bangkok to Chiang Mai) are from Don Mueang Airport. Your international flight will almost always arrive in Suvarnabhumi, so you will need to ensure you have time to transfer between the two airports to catch your flight. I recommend at least 2 hours to be safe.

– There is a free bus transfer between the two Bangkok Airports (Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang). It departs hourly and sometimes half-hourly. It takes about an hour and is usually marked with signs and a desk in the arrivals hall – worth saving the money a taxi would charge you if you are transferring directly to a flight from Bangkok elsewhere in Thailand.

– When you arrive at any airport, proceed to the counter marked “Metered Taxis.” These taxis will be required to use their meters (ask them multiple times anyway to be sure), and they will provide you with a special slip of paper that is written nearly entirely in Thai. Keep this slip of paper in your possession at all times, even if the cab driver asks for it. This paper has all of the taxi driver’s information and can be used to mail a complaint in to the department of transportation (i.e. didn’t use the meter, overcharged, etc.). As long as you have this paper, you have the power to not get scammed. Keep it! They will and do frequently ask, so just say no.

– In the more tourist-heavy coastal and island areas, there will be fixed transport pricing that you will not be able to negotiate. For example, the taxi boats from the pier in Ko Phi Phi have fixed pricing, and nothing you do will get a boat captain to lower his fare. You can definitely try, but we had zero success.

– In Bangkok, I recommend traveling by boat. There is a ferry bus on the main river through the city that will take you everywhere. Find your way to a pier, buy a ticket, and jump on! It’s a fun experience.

Accommodation in Thailand:

– I recommend that you do not pre-book your hotels if possible. There is plenty of accommodation in every area, and you will have the flexibility to negotiate on-site that you won’t have online.

– There are travel agents in every port area of every town. I recommend consulting with a travel agent when you arrive somewhere you didn’t pre-book. They usually can get you placed in a great spot for pretty inexpensive, if you tell them how much you’re willing to spend per night. They will have maps, photos, etc. and don’t be afraid to ask as many questions as you want. Do your research and know what a normal price is for the area you’re staying in – Koh Lanta cost us 1/3 what Ko Phi Phi did, but we paid about market rate in both locations.

– If you don’t want to go the travel agent route, many business owners and homeowners will directly lease a private room in the back of their business/house. These are usually even less expensive than typical hotel/hostel accommodation and are posted with signs on the streets outside of the business or home, so keep your eyes open when you’re walking around. And always see the room before allowing money to change hands.

– There are two key types of rooms in Thailand: Fan and Air Con. Pretty straightforward, one has air conditioning and one does not. It’s up to you which you prefer, but you will pay a premium (about 30 – 50% more) for air conditioning. We had air con everywhere except in Koh Lanta, where the ocean breeze and fan was plenty for me. I recommend trying fan first unless you are on a very high floor or the temps are 90+, which can be dangerous.

Decorum:

– The temples and places of worship in Thailand require that your legs and shoulders are covered. This means no tank tops, shorts, short skirts, transparent clothing, etc. Some temples will provide free robes to cover yourself up, some places (like the Grand Palace) require a refundable cash deposit to use their wraps/shirts before you can enter. If you know you’re going to temples, I recommend a maxi skirt or linen pants and carrying a sweater or wrap of some sort so you don’t have to hassle with the lines to get robes.

– Revelry is expected in most tourist-heavy spots like Khao San Rd., Ko Phi Phi main beach, etc. Don’t be an overly offensive nit wit and you’ll be fine. Even if you are one, the Thai people will be gracious, but you’ll be an asshole.

Negotiate, negotiate, negotiate! Thailand, and Bangkok in particular, is a fabulous place to work on your negotiation skills and assertiveness. Be polite, but be aggressive. I like to counter less than half the original asking price and not move to more than about 60%. The best tactic when they won’t budge is to start walking away, saying no. They will usually backpedal – and you’ll get your deal. Even if you don’t have exact change, the Thais recognize that a deal is a deal and will provide you with the appropriate change based on the agreed price – just make sure you double-check it.

– On that note, always double-check your change. Honest and dishonest mistakes can happen quite often. I had a waitress forget to put 500 baht into my change for a meal, which would have cost me $15 if I hadn’t noticed.

– Also be careful with your bills. The 100 Baht and 500 Baht notes look very similar. Always read the number on the bill before you hand it over and you won’t end up overpaying on accident.

So that’s most of it. Anything you think I missed? Comment below!

Ko Phi Phi

Annie and I sat in the “basement” of the overcrowded ferry boat, being lulled into a state of half-sleep brought on by the incessant hum of the engine muting all other sound and the rhythmic rock of the waves as we chartered through the Indian Ocean to Ko Phi Phi. It was Annie’s birthday, and we were justifiably heading to the “party island” to celebrate after two glorious days of relaxation in the Koh Lanta sunshine.

We arrived onto the dock and were immediately thrust into a loud bustle of activity – shouts to pay the pier tax, long-tail boat drivers refraining, “boat boat, taxi boat,” confused tourists trying to find their connecting ferry. We extracted ourselves from the throng and set about trying to replicate our travel agency success in Koh Lanta here in Phi Phi. Our first shock was that we were going to be spending at least 3x more per night, but we found something that seemed to tick enough boxes to justify the expense (still only $21/night, but its amazing how quickly money becomes relative).

The next surprise was that our “taxi” was a man wheeling a cart. I’m sure an ounce of research would have told me that Ko Phi Phi is a no-vehicle island, but I didn’t do any research and so I was surprised to find that bicycles were the only vehicle on the streets of the town we were staying in. The town was thick with people, heavy-hot, and very, very touristy. after serene and uncrowded Koh Lanta, it took a bit of adjustment. We landed at our hotel, dropped our gear and beelined to the beach in the late-afternoon sun to grab a few last minute rays and jump in the water.

Ko Phi Phi Beach

After a meal, a shower, and a beer or two, we were ready to begin Annie’s birthday celebration. We headed back to the beach where the all-night parties took place every night and grabbed a famous bucket of rum and coke while we took in an particularly fascinating fire show at aptly-named Ibiza Bar. After the show and a bucket, we felt buzzed enough to partake in some dancing, so we went to the bar that had the biggest crowd, procured another bucket, and let the dancing begin.

Alcohol Ko Phi Phi Lovin That Bucket Annie and I Drinking Buckets On the Dancefloor in Ko Phi Phi

After a couple of hours of dancing, making friends, watching drunk kids do ridiculously stupid things like try to participate in the fire shows, climb wooden totem-pole-like object and dance on top until jumping to friends below, etc., we wandered out into the ankle-deep water of the beach and had a mini photo shoot. Soon after, we decided we’d had enough rum, dancing, and sweating in the balmy 85-degree evening heat, and headed back to our hotel, the air con, and sleep.

The next day we were up and ready to do some exploring, so we hiked over to Long Beach from the town. It was good mile or so over some interesting terrain, and we ran into a few reptilian natives on our way. Once we arrived at that glorious stretch of white sand, we immediately jumped into the crystal-clear water to cool off. Watching tropical fish swim past your legs in waist-deep water is an experience I’d recommend to anyone.

Crazy Ko Phi Phi Lizard More Thailand Wildlife Beautiful Ko Phi Phi Thailand

We went back to catch our 2 pm sunset snorkel tour (which we almost missed thanks to some poor direction from our travel agent, but a few confused phone conversations with a lovely Thai woman and a private taxi to meet up with the boat full of people in the middle of the bay soon resolved the problem). Our tour took us to Koh Phi Phi Lee (or Leh), the small island off the coast of Ko Phi Phi Don, which is what is most tourists think of when they think Ko Phi Phi. This smaller island is home to Maya Bay, made famous by the Leonardo DiCaprio film “The Beach” in the late 90s/early 00s. After a snorkel and quick bite, we were left to lounge on this incredible beach for an hour or so before we headed back to main island to see famed Monkey Beach.

On the Snorkel Tour in Ko Phi Phi

Maya Bay Ko Phi Phi

I couldn’t squash my excitement as our boat neared a strip of white sand with small, moving brown dots. As we got closer and closer those brown dots grew, took shape, and revealed themselves to be monkeys frolicking on the sand. In my excitement to interact I saw the sign that said “No Feeding,” but missed the one that said “Use caution, monkeys can be aggressive.” Our boat captain immediately disobeyed the first order, tossing a handful of pineapple onto the sand and sending the monkeys into an excited, chattering frenzy. So we grabbed what was left of the fruit we hadn’t eaten and starting handing it off in photo opp after photo opp. Until we ran out. And when the monkeys realized the photos were now free, they were NOT happy campers. I heard a strange grunting and looked up to see a couple of the monkeys chasing one of our fellow passengers. Before I realized what was happening, the grunting started dangerously close to me, and one monkey who had been sitting waiting for his next meal beelined directly for me, little hands grasping angrily at my sarong as I screamed and ran into the water in sheer terror. Fortunately or unfortunately, I was filming at the time, and the video plays a bit like a scene from a self-filmed horror movie (think: Blair Witch or Paranormal Activity, but with monkeys on the beach). But the monkeys wouldn’t go in the water, so I stayed comfortably ankle-deep for the rest of our visit.

Monkeys on the Beach Thailand

Monkey Beach thailand Sad Monkey Beach


Totally Happened

After our return from the trip we were hungry, we we headed to Banana Bar to hopefully catch the last rays of the sun on the rooftop bar. We ordered food and a few beers and just after the sun went down the place got packed for the nightly screening of a movie the bar hosts on the big screen. Tonight’s pick: The Hangover 2. Having now been to Bangkok, the movie changed a bit for me, but it was fun to be wedged into a comfy corner of the bar surrounded by backpackers and other young travelers. We went to our hotel after to shower and prep for the evening, only to have the day catch up to us the second we slowed down, so we went to sleep early.

The next day we were due in Phuket for a day and night before we were due to fly back to Sydney (sniff), so we spent the morning hiking up the most ridiculous set of stairs in the history of sets of stairs to see the famed viewpoint. A gallon of sweat and two aching buns later, we were paid off with the most incredible view I saw my entire visit to Thailand.

Stairs to the Ko Phi Phi Lookout Beautiful Arial View of Ko Phi Phi

We cooled off on the beach in Long Beach for a couple of hours before we had to head back to town for a quick bite of street food and the ferry in the early afternoon, not really believing that our incredible holiday was nearly over.

Koh Lanta, Thailand

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Annie and I departed Bangkok early in the morning and made our way to Don Mueang Airport for our domestic flight to Phuket. Though we were both a little sad to say goodbye to the city, we were excited to finally dig our toes into the sand and look out across that gorgeous aquamarine water immortalized in so many incredible travel photos. Our traveling experience was aggravating in the special way that only travel in Asia can be (basically, toss any sense of manners or common sense out the window, and that’s air travel in Asia), but we finally landed in Phuket, headed straight to the ferry, and spent the next couple of hours chugging through the glorious Indian Ocean over to Koh Lanta.

We arrived in the port town of Sala Dan and began walking through the streets to determine where we should stay for the evening. We had intentionally not made any firm plans beyond our arrival in Koh Lanta as we wanted to have the freedom to move as we pleased among the islands. So, after a couple of blocks of wandering, we decided to enlist the help of one of the many local travel agents scattered around Thai towns like Starbucks are scattered around Los Angeles. We told the agent we were hoping to spend about 500 Baht per night (about $15 AU), leaving it to her to interpret if this meant per person, or total. She set us up at a place she called “Sandy Beach,” telling us it was a beach bungalow in Long Beach, the area we had chosen to stay while on the island.

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And that, my friends, is how Annie and ended up in our own little bungalow not 100 yards from the sea, in one of the most incredible places I have ever visited in my life. For a whopping $7.50 per night (for my share). Though the accommodation could be considered primitive to those used to resorts (i.e., our toilet was a “manual flush,” which meant you had to actually drop bucketfuls of water into the toilet bowl in order for it to flush), I actually loved it. It was only what you needed, and nothing you didn’t. A mosquito net, a fan, a queen-sized mattress with sheets, and who needs a hot shower when the temperature never dips below 80F anyway? Plus, we were a few feet away from a restaurant, a bar, and the sand. We immediately deposited our bags, got into swimsuits, grabbed a Chang at the bar, and plopped ourselves into the white sand to watch the sunset and jump into the water.

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After a quick shower and heavy dose of mosquito spray (highly recommended for Thailand), we decided to walk to dinner. Fortunately our pathway to all of the restaurants in Long Beach was the beach, as there is a restaurant staked into the sand every 50 yards or so. We chose one based on its price and breadth of menu and had another incredible meal of Thai food, with our toes digging into the sand and the crash of the waves as our restaurant music.
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The next morning we decided it was time for another bucket list check – elephant riding. I know that there are many objectors to this practice and I understand that it can contribute to the mistreatment of these amazing beasts, but I couldn’t come all this way without interacting with the national animal, and so we were off to the south end of Koh Lanta to have an hour-long elephant trek. I was a mixture of nervous and excited as we watched them saddle up our glorious steed (okay that might be an over-dramatization, but I was excited!), and next thing I knew I was I perched next to Annie on the animal’s back, lumbering side-to-side and backward and forward unsteadily. Once we had adjusted to the elephant’s gait, it was a relatively uneventful hour, just enough time to see some monkeys in the wild and have a photo shoot in the forest before we headed back for fresh pineapple, water and a ride back to Long Beach so we could enjoy the rest of the day on the beach.
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After a few hours of sun, swimming, and sand, we cleaned up and decided to splurge on a $9 massage on the sand at sunset. I was sat down by a petite, grandmotherly-looking Thai woman with a grip that would rival Thor’s and an incongruous chest tattoo. Being pressed like freshly-laundered shirt for an hour does wonders for the appetite, and all Annie and I were able to do was stagger through the sand to the nearest table at the restaurant in our hotel and order plate after plate of spicy carbohydrates.
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Since sleep would have meant an end to our last night in Koh Lanta, we decide to wander the beach in search of a few drinks and stumbled upon a fun-looking but totally deserted bar called the Black Pearl or something similarly Pirate-esque. But the lack of people had us wandering back toward our hotel with beers in hand, and plopping onto the lounge chairs stationed in the sand to listen to the waves. I woke up about an hour later and stumbled back to our bungalow (not so good at avoiding sleep when it’s a perfect 75F and the ocean is lullabying you into it). We had already decided we like Koh Lanta too much to leave on the first ferry out, so we took our time over breakfast and had another long beach walk before we finally packed it in and got a taxi to the pier in Sala Dan, sad to say goodbye but looking forward to the party in Ko Phi Phi.
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Bangkok is Magic


Bangkok is like a brand-new friend who excitedly yanks you from place to place by your arm, dragging you behind as you haplessly try to slow the pace, chattering a mile a minute while grabbing some fascinating object offhandedly and shoving it eagerly into your face, not waiting even a moment for you examine and absorb it’s wonder before pushing the next thing into your arms for inspection.

I could feel the energy of the city through my travel exhaustion from the moment we landed and were ushered into a hot pink, 1998 Lancer taxi that didn’t go a notch under 80 mph until we arrived at the hotel. I had arranged to meet an old childhood friend who happened to be backpacking through Southeast Asia, and our paths fortunately crossed in Bangkok for the two days Annie and I would be there. A previous trip and a couple of weeks already in Bangkok on this trip made him familiar with the city, and we urged him to be our guide and mentor, as we realized almost immediately that we had not yet been hardened into the type of traveler Bangkok demands.

oldiebutgoodie

We ventured out to Khao San Road, the tourist mecca of street stalls hawking everything from food, jewelry, raw coconuts, clothing, even dried bugs for your snacking pleasure (I wasn’t so pleased). If I had been expecting dirty, smelly, watch-your-back, I’m happy to say my expectations were proven (mostly) wrong. Every corner, every tiny alley, every doorway was bursting with color, noise, movement, life. The smells alternated between rotting trash, hot asphalt, and the most delicious-smelling street food, the sounds a mixture of tipsy tourists and vendors hawking their wares, and the street felt like day time thanks to the neon and streetlights.

khao san

Photo Credit: Annie Bettis @ The Wayward Traveller

Wasting no time attacking my bucket list, we immediately grabbed a plate of pad thai from a street vendor for about $2.50 and dug in. Feeling appropriately sated, we set off to absorb Khao San and a few local beers. After several Changs (a few of which were served in a “tower,” essentially a pitcher but times 100) a few purchases of the wares on the street, and me shout-negotiating with a Thai woman who was easily 3x my size, as well as being “forced” to try the foul-smelling dried squid with chili sauce (I do NOT recommend), and possibly catching the last 20 minutes of one of Thailand’s infamous shows, we wound up back at the hotel after another hard-nosed negotiation with a cab driver.

Check That Off the List

yuck

The next day started slowly as Annie had a killer hangover (I suppose my tolerance is too high, I was only a little crusty), but we managed to get up, get out and meet my friend again for one of the most delicious meals I’ve had in recent memory – Tomyumkung Soup and Green Curry Pork. Not only did I want to dive into both and hang out for the rest of the day, I am now committed to finding the closest local Asian market and I WILL learn how to make that soup. But alas, Bangkok was calling to us and our friend had to go to the embassy to secure a visa for India, so we were off to the Grand Palace. We opted to take a water bus at my friend’s suggestion, and it was probably the best suggestion he could have given. The water is an incredible way to see this city, and since an all-day pass only cost us about $3.10, we decided to splurge and hop around the city using this mode of transport.

Tom Yum Kung Soup

On a Water Bus!

If you ever want to see patience and devotion in architectural form, I recommend the temples at the Grand Palace. Hand-tiled mosaic work in the richest jewel tones are everywhere, hand-maintained by local monks as part of their spiritual practice. It is humbling to stand before such a masterpiece and envision the thousands of hours that must have been spent assembling and maintaining it.

Warriors at Grand Palace Thailand

Grand Palace Bangkok Detail

After the Grand Palace we made our way to Wat Pho, to see the giant Reclining Buddha smiling serenely at the ceiling of his temple, blissfully unaware of the bustle of tourists frantically positioning themselves below for the best photo. We wandered the grounds until my Havaianas snapped (dammit), then jumped into a tuk tuk back to the markets we had passed at the pier to get myself some new sandals (another negotiation session – much more fun than the ones I have to participate in at work).

Full Reclining Buddha

Reclining Buddha

Sassy with the Statues

After a quick stop in Chinatown where Annie and I definitely felt like the outsiders, we headed back toward Khao San to meet up with my friend again, grab a cheap meal ($2/person), a couple more Changs, and the most insane Thai foot massage on the side of the road (for $3 for half an hour of bliss on my worn-out, miles-walked feet and legs). Between the foot rub, belly full of delicious curry and pad see ew, and shampoo effect of the beers, Annie and I were struggling to keep our foreheads from banging onto the table, capitulating to our drooping eyes.

So we found a taxi that promised to use his meter, bid my friend farewell with a massive thanks for helping us get used to Thailand, and collapsed back in the hotel, the kind of exhausted you can only be after immersing yourself in a city that is bursting with stimuli to assault and tantalize each of your senses.

The (Other) Land of the Free

Yesterday, Annie and I parked ourselves in front of our respective laptops, ordered in Thai, cracked a bottle of cold white wine, and voided our bank accounts of several hundred dollars in exchange for a round-trip flight between Sydney and Bangkok.

Wikipedia tells me that the Thai people call their country “The Land of the Free” since they were one of the few Asian countries never colonized by a European power. Considering Annie and I are also from a “Land of the Free,” my instincts tell me that we’ll get along with Thailand quite nicely.

Thailand was never on my travel to-do list until a couple of years ago, when my sister and a few of her friends flew out there to meet up with my brother on his epic round-the-world college grad trip. After seeing her photos and hearing her stories, I knew it was time to do a little recon on travel destinations in the continent of Asia. When I accepted my role in Sydney, a driving factor in coming to this corner of the world was that my reconnaissance could now become an active mission (should I choose to accept it). So when Annie casually texted me a few weeks ago about planning a trip for her birthday, I was on it like curry on rice. Sorry, bad joke.

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Photo Credit: Jessie Brown

So our tentative game plan is as follows:

Leave Sydney, landing Singapore for a 15 hour, overnight layover. Rage in Singapore for 15 hours.
Fly from Singapore to Bangkok, spend a day & night in Bangkok seeing the sights.
Fly from Bangkok to Phuket, hang out in Phuket for a day/two days.
Hit the islands. On the list now: Krabi, Koh Lanta Yai, and Koh Phi Phi.

We have 7 days not including travel, so I now ask my lovely readers/friends:

– What would you do with 15 hours in Singapore (including an evening)?
– Is there anything on our destinations list we should skip?
– Is there anything we simply can NOT miss?

Comment below with your Thailand travel tips, I cannot WAIT!

Buzzing on a travel high in Sydney, xoxoxo!

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