Thailand - 2004

This time I made a 2-week trip to Thailand at a very short notice. I found reasonably priced flights (including accommodation for two weeks in Phuket - that was still cheaper than buying the flights separately) from a package tour operator. After arriving in Phuket I had to say goodbye for the other Finns and continue on my own to more interesting destinations...

Check out the photo gallery.

Places visited:

  1. Phuket
  2. Ko Phi Phi
  3. Ko Lanta
  4. Bangkok
  5. Ayutthaya
  6. Ko Pha-Ngan
  7. Phang Nga

In general this was an excellent trip with excellent beaches, interesting nature and temples. Even Bangkok was a pleasant surprise for me (not to mention Ayutthaya that was really fascinating). The best beaches were in Ko Lanta and Ko Pha-Ngan. Other experiences worth mentioning are a thai boxing night in Lanta. And of course the food!

18.2.2004 Helsinki - Phuket
I checked in the Finnmatkat chater flight at Helsinki-Vantaa airport. A package trip with "undefined accomodation" was the cheapest alternative to get to Thailand at a such short notice. It was a direct flight with stopover in India (Ahmedabad) - I managed to sleep pretty well so it was fairly pleasant experience. I informed the guide at Phuket airport that I will be continuing on my own. Otherwise I would have been staying at Karon beach resort sharing a room with somebody - no thanks! So long suckers and let the adventure begin...

I took a taxi to Phuket town. My plan was to stay overnight there and continue by ferry to Phi Phi in the morning. The hotel was somewhat rundown but reasonably priced (~500 baht). After checking in I started exploring the city. Quite a typical Asian small town with lots of chaos, mopeds and noise. People were really friendly and no beggars or touts were to be seen. I bought new sandals and a map from a local shopping mall. I tried to locate the Phi Phi ferries from the harbour area but as it later turned out I was in the wrong place. I had a delicious fish meal at a farang-oriented restaurant (a place targeted for tourists). I was the only customer so the service was excellent. The food was really, really spicy. Because of jet lag I soon felt really tired and went to sleep around 9 o'clock...

19.2.2004 Phuket - Phi Phi
I woke up early and checked out from the hotel. I visited tourist information to find out the ferry timetables. Then I continued by tuk-tuk to the ferry. I had to wait for a while - interestingly there was a talking bird in a cage that kept me amused for a while... It took about two hours to reach Phi Phi. The impression was pretty much shocking. The village was so packed with people (mostly touts and travellers) and as the streets were really narrow it was difficult to move. There were places like "Scandinavian steakhouse" and "Hippie bar" so it felt like being in Rhodos!

It was difficult to find accommodation - many places were fully booked. Finally after ten or more tries I managed to find an overpriced bungalow. I headed to Long Beach that should not be that crowded - it still is but not that bad as the village area. As dark falls I move back to the village and have an excellent dinner at a restaurant by the sea. The nearby bar is a perfect place for chilling out - there are mattresses on the beach where you can sip drinks and watch the stars. The music was also a pleasant surprise - some downtempo breakbeat in the evening and more housey tunes
later. Later I check out the "nightlife" in the village - pretty chaotic as streets are packed with people and vendors. I quickly return to my bungalow. As I suspected I don't really like the place so tomorrow it is time to move on...

20.2.2004 Phi Phi - Ko Lanta
I wake up as sun rises and head straight for the ferry. On my way I have a Thai pancake for breakfast. It takes about 1,5 hours to reach Ko Lanta. The harbour area is packed with buildings that seem to collapse at any minute and the usual touts offering bungalows. I take a moto ride to a random location on the beach several kilometres south of the harbour. I try to locate a peaceful spot on the beach with decent accommodation. It is a pleasant "stretch" of beach (about 5 kilometres at least). I find a place called Bee Garden which has bungalows with sea view at the price of 1000B. Not cheap but the location and views are good.

I spend the rest of day on the beach. I hear people speaking Finnish for the first time for a while. I have dinner in a nearby open-air restaurant - that proves to be a disappointment (barracuda with baked potatoes). A little bit too tourist-oriented place for me - additionally they are playing Red Hot Chilli Peppers which definitely is not one of my favourites. I spend a while walking on the beach and return to my bungalow. Anyway I like Lanta and decide to settle down for a couple of days.

21.2.2004 Ko Lanta
I decide to go further down south explore the more remote beaches. I take a moto and end up somewhere in the middle of the western coast. It would take too long to reach the southern tip of the island so I have to change my plan. The beaches are good but it is very hot and there is not much shelter from the burning rays of the sun. Therefore after a couple of hours I have to return to the bungalow and enjoy the air conditioning. I check out the sunset (somewhat cloudy but beautiful). I have dinner at the bungalow (tom yam) which proves to be an excellent choice.

Then it is time for thai boxing. There is a "stadium" nearby that has the weekly night with 8 matches. The stadium is a just a set of brick walls and seats around the ring. There are lots of people - both locals and farangs. Around nine o'clock the fighting starts. The first matches are for kids - the fighters are barely ten years old and weight 35 kilos. Anyway the guys take it seriously and there are lots of knockouts. Thai boxing turns out to be quite violent sport and the locals seem to take it really seriously. There is also gambling involved. Anyway an interesting night even though I'm not a big fan of fighting or martial arts.

22.2.2004 Ko Lanta / Ko Rok
I booked a day trip to the island of Ko Rok that is part of the local national park. A speedboat picks me up and the 30 km journey to the island begins. The area is unpopulated marine sanctuary with coral reefs and breathtaking views. There are several snorkeling spots which prove to be excellent. There is lots of underwater life to be explored. Not quite as good as Caribbean but still very good! There are three snorkeling spots and lunch on a paradise island - definitely a trip worth every bath!

I return to my bungalow around four o'clock. I once again watch the cloudy sunset. I make a long walk on the beach to visit the restaurant of Diamond Beach bungalows (recommended by LP). And once again LP is right - white snapper with curry is the best dish so far during this trip...

23.2.2004 Ko Lanta
I wake up in the middle of night as I need to go to toilet.It is obvious that I have diarrhea - even though I rarely suffer from it. I'm feeling pretty bad so I spend most of the day laying in the bed or on the beach. I take some medicine and hope that I will recover soon. I'm feeling slightly feverish and go to bed early hoping I will feel better tomorrow.

24.2.2004 Ko Lanta - Krabi - Bangkok
In the morning I'm fortunately feeling lot better. I take a ferry to Krabi. It takes longer than I expected and the harbour is somewhere outside the downtown area. As I still feel somewhat weak I decide to skip the trip to Khao Sok national park and continue directly to Bangkok. To save time I book a flight from Krabi. The first flight that has seats available is late in the evening so I have to day to spend in Krabi. I decide to visit the local "jungle temple". I catch a sangthaew (a shared taxi). After some negotiations I get a private ride to my destination. It is quite an impressive place - a huge complex of rooms partly built in caves. There are several monks around and skeletons in glass cabinets! Other interesting spots are a fountain populated by monkeys and a short jungle trail.

I return to downtown and have a good and cheap meal. As there is still time I take a longtail boat ride along the river (not very interesting). Then I head to the airport. Everything goes smoothly and I arrive in Bangkok late in the evening. The only bus connection available goes to Khao San Road. I'm not yet familiar with this well-known backpacker ghetto but soon I'll learn what's it all about: a pretty chaotic area that somehow reminds me of San Antonio in Ibiza. There is nothing genuinely Asian there - but lots of Irish bars and sleazy clubs playing loud (western) music. Anyway you have to experience it at least once...

25.2.2004 Bangkok / Ayutthaya
The plan is to make a day trip to the historical city of Ayutthaya about 100 kilometres from Bangkok. I'll travel there by train - to save time I'll first take a bus to airport that has a train station nearby. This turns out to be a bad plan as I have to wait for the train over one hour. I check out the local wat (temple) and enjoy some delicious food from the street vendors. The 3rd-class train is an interesting experience - the wooden benches are pretty much packed and all the windows are open to provide "air conditioning". Surprisingly the train is exactly on schedule and I arrive in Ayutthaya after an hour.

After some wandering I find the first of the numerous wats. Even though some of them are really in bad condition in general the place is awesome. There are lots of towers and buddha statues. I visit quite a few wats during the day (including a couple of new ones as well). The wats are scattered all over the city so there is lots of walking to be done. After four o'clock I'm feeling pretty much tired so that after a good noodle meal I return to the train station. This time I go all the way to Bangkok's central railway station and take a tuk tuk back to hotel. For the first time I realize how chaotic the traffic in Bangkok is. I spend the rest of day at Khao San Road buying some pirate products: watch 10, wallet 6 and a t-shirt for 4. I do some people-watching at a terrace of a bar before going to sleep.

26.2.2004 Bangkok - Ko Samui
I've booked a late evening flight to Samui so the objective is to see as much of Bangkok as possible during this limited period of time. My first destination is the Grand Palace that proves to be one of the most impressive manmade constructions I have visited so far. An unbelievable amount of gold, buddha statues and tourists. I have to borrow cotton trousers from the reception since shorts are not allowed on the sacred grounds of the palace! The temple area is huge and you could spend the whole day there. Because of my tight schedule I have to leave after 1,5 hours.

My next destination is Chinatown - which is a sight in itself. I take a waterbus that travels along the dirty river and arrive in the middle of chaos. It seems that you can buy practically anything from the small shops and the street vendors - anything from live animals to electronics... Accidentally I end up in a park called "Royal Garden" which is a beautiful place with speakers playing some soothing Thai music.

I still have the time to visit the interesting Wat Arun before it is time to go to the airport. The traffic jams are really bad but fortunately I catch my flight. In general Bangkok was quite a pleasant experience - maybe because I was already prepared for the madness after visiting KL earlier? I arrive in Ko Samui close midnight and take the first decently priced bungalow available.

27.2.2004 Ko Samui - Ko Pha-Ngan
My visit to Samui is a short one as I take the ferry to Pha-Ngan as the first thing in the morning. After the one-hour ferry trip and a sangthaew ride I'm in the "capital" of the island. I take another sangthaew ride to the Hat Yao beach on the west coast. It should be one of the more peaceful spots on the island. There seems to be quite a lot of bungalows but anyway the place is impressive. I spot some stylish bungalows on a top of a cliff - surprisingly they are really reasonably priced (350B) so it is pretty much clear where I will be staying.

I spend the rest of the day on the beach. There is a hammock on the terrace of the bungalow and a beautiful sea view. After dark I go back to the beach where the bars stay open till very late as people are chilling out in candle light. The music is to my surprise pretty good - not much of the usual heavy rock and RnB.

28.2.2004 Ko Pha-Ngan
Today will be the do-nothing day. So the most activities are about lying on the beach or in the hammock. There seems to be another more peaceful south from the bungalows so I enjoy the sunset there with some Singha. I have red snapper for dinner and spend the rest of evening on the beach admiring the shows of local acrobats playing with fire. Tomorrow it is the time to move on again...

29.2.2004 Ko Pha-Ngan - Khao Sok
I woke up at nine o'clock to catch the ferry to mainland (Surat Thani). I could have stayed on the beautiful island longer but the jungle and hiking part of the trip is also something not to be missed. There is some usual hassle at he harbour and the ferry finally leaves half an hour late. It is quite a long trip (four hours) but fortunately the sun is shining and the scenery is beautiful. In Surat Thani I realize there is a minibus connection directly to Khao Sok. Seems like a good idea but it proves to be a long journey as the bus stops in the city center for a long time...

Finally late in the evening I arrive in Khao Sok in the middle of jungle. The place is called Jungle Hut and it pretty much lives up to its name - very basic huts in the middle of jungle! The bamboo huts with mosquito nets are actually pretty comfortable and the price of 150B is not bad. The first thing I notice is the sounds of jungle - there is constant buzzing around and lots of other weird sounds can also be heard. I check out the surroundings (pretty much nothing except the park entrance) and have noodles for dinner. Good food but the TV with British football feels a little bit out of place... I listen to the wonderful sounds of jungle for a while before going to sleep.

1.3.2004 Khao Sok
The sounds of jungle wake me up and I get prepared for some hiking. I consider hiring a guide (after getting lost in Malaysian jungle)  but I decide to go to the jungle on my own. I have a heavy English breakfast and ask the owner of the place for directions. He recommends the "left trail". The trail actually starts as a dirt road which does not really feel like jungle. Soon the trail starts and it proves to be quite challenging. I'm soon sweating heavily. The sounds of jungle are fascinating but there are very few animals to be seen - mostly birds and butterflies.

After a couple of kilometres the heat gets really bad and I stop to do some swimming in the river. It was really a refreshing sensation and as the heat feels to be increasing I start to head back... As there is still time when I return to the huts I book an elephant ride. The location is about 15 kilometres away so I get a scooter ride there. The elephant ride is an interesting experience - sometimes a very stable one but sometimes it feels like you are about to fall down... The ride takes me to a local waterfall and then back to the place where we started from. I enjoy some delicious curry fish and thai salad for dinner and do some surfing on the Internet for the first time for two weeks. Not much news though.

2.3.2004 Khao Sok - Phang-Nga
The final leg of the trip is to get to the small town of Phang Nga. My stomach is once again feeling somewhat bad and I'm expecting the worst. Fortunately I'm feeling better later as I get to place called Takua Pa where I have to change buses. There is the usual selection of local karaoke videos in the bus. Phang Nga is an unimpressive small town with few attractions - on the other hand the lack of tourists makes it an interesting destination. The main attraction is the boat ride in the national park but I decide to leave it for tomorrow. I hang out in the city for the rest of the day - apart from the marketplaces there is not much to be seen. I have dinner in a muslim restaurant - I order octopus but instead I get some scampi. Anyway pretty tasty. It seems that after nine there is pretty much nothing going on so I return to hotel.

3.3.2004 Phang-Nga - Phuket - Helsinki
My final day in Thailand starts early in the morning as I catch the long tail boat that should do a tour in the national park of Phang Nga. The main attraction is the "strangely shaped islands" as LP says. They are actually ancient limestone formations. The long tail boat takes me through the mangrove forest to the labyrinth of these fascinating islands. The scenery is really impressive: the trees are somehow surviving on the steep islands and there are several caves and lagoons inside the islands. We have lunch on a beautiful beach and I have the final chance to enjoy the warm waters of the Andaman Sea. On the way back we stop at a muslim village built on water.

Soon it is the time to head back and I take the first taxi available to get to the airport in time. The driver keeps the speed at a steady 140 km/h and I get to the airport just before the check-in closes. The families with their screaming kids are waiting for me at the gate - so it is the time to return to reality.

Anyway the trip was a good one and there is still lots of places in Thailand to be seen. I'm already thinking about touring the northern parts combined with Cambodia and Vietnam as the next thing... 

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