Thailand Part 3: Goodbye Bangkok, Thai Islands, and Returning to Chiang Mai

THE LAST TRAVEL ACCOUNT!

I realise I have written A LOT over these months about my trip. I’ve tried to be as detailed as possible, mostly so that one day when I look back and feel even more nostalgic than now I can remember the wonderful highs and lows, twists and turns. I imagine they would be hugely boring to anyone, hence why I’ve tried to include pretty pictures! There are stories and moments I’m sure that have been omitted from my forgetfulness, but for the most part I think it’s all pretty accurate! It’s absolutely not over though, there’s still so many thoughts I have on travelling, the trip and so on so I hope I can keep writing. Here’s to one last blow by blow account, featuring my favourite quotes from The Beach!

We arrived into Bangkok from Hanoi feeling absolutely horrendous. The illness hadn’t passed for me, and Em was getting unwell too. A night in with comfy beds and aircon was all we wanted, and we were back in the familiar Saphaipae Hostel near Silom that we stayed at before. We had hoped to head out for the evening but no such luck. The most exciting thing we did was be reunited with our stash of clothes we’d left here. So many item’s we’d forgotten we had! The following morning we felt so much better, proof that a good night’s sleep can make all the difference. We had a busy day of final sightseeing, most of which was spent at the enormous complex in the Grand Palace. We indulged in the final temple we would be visiting for some time, and revelled in all the grandeur that Thailand has to offer. As I’ve mentioned before, no expense is spared when it comes to things they care about, and the King is number one priority. I’m currently writing this in the wake of his death, and I would like to express how grateful I am to have visited Thailand while he was alive. The country will be mourning for a long time, and it was clear to see just how special he was to them. We loved the Grand Palace, from the jewels room to the Emerald Buddha, everything is lavish and beautiful. It’s really a treat for the senses! It’s probably our favourite of the main temple attractions of Bangkok, if only for it’s variety, but for us it was the majesty and care of it all. Where else can you see a Buddha made entirely of Emerald that gets dressed by the King?!

Grand Palace

Our final night we went for one last EVER Jojo’s Pad Thai, enjoyed the markets of Koh San Road and bid goodbye to wonderfully crazy, fantastic city. I have no doubt I will be in Bangkok again one day, it’ll be very interesting to see how it changes, so watch this space! A long bus ride overnight and we were at the port in Surat Thani watching the sun slowly rise as we waited for our boat to the island of Koh Tao. When deciding what to do with our final couple of weeks, we had several ideas. The most cost effective thing to do was to stay in one of the SE Asia countries we liked and could afford (sorry Cambodia), and as we flew from Bangkok home Thailand made sense. We had been constantly advised on places to visit, but the most common recommendation was the Thai Islands. These pockets of paradise are the perfect backpacker place on a budget, we could just sit back, relax and top up the tan! The only question was which ones to visit… Here’s where we ended up!

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Last Jojo’s

“I just feel like everyone tries to do something different, but you always wind up doing the same damn thing.”  

Koh Tao

Koh Tao is very small, and well known for the scuba diving courses that are affordable and give you a chance to see some wonderful reefs and marine life. We couldn’t afford time or money to do this, but I would LOVE to one day. The island itself is extremely quaint and pretty, and we adored it. It was functional enough with everything we need such as a Seven Eleven corner shop for food, snacks and water, restaurants, bars, cafes, walks and of course, beaches. We explored a couple of beaches, and chose one we liked which was a 20 minutes walk from the hostel. We loved our hostel too, everything was just perfect for our time on Koh Tao (except the EU Referendum vote, let’s not go there). We wish wish wish we’d stayed longer, but alas, it was on to the next!

Sairee Beach

Koh Samui

The largest of the Thai Islands, Samui is much more commercialised, and feels like a coastal town on the mainland. The island has an airport, and we personally we not enthralled by it. The more expensive of the ones we visited, it’s clearly a place for holidaying couples and families, and the long stretch of beach is filled with so many tourists and locals selling you things. The resorts that back right onto the beach get the best spots, and the water sport enthusiasts are constantly making waves on the jet skis. Of course, it’s still wonderful, lovely and relaxing, but ultimately it could have been anywhere. As for a backpacker scene, there’s plenty of extreme activities to enjoy, but as we were nearing the end of our trip all we wanted to do was relax and not spend any money, so it wasn’t really the island for us. Plus the weather wasn’t quite as good, even though each day we had to go and camp out in aircon just to rehydrate. When will we learn!

Chaweng Beach

Koh Phi Phi

This island on the west side of Thailand we reached by boat, bus, and another boat. It took a while to get there, but booking travel between the islands is so easy and very affordable. Just head down to the ferry port and there’s likely to be a travel office or booking booth to make a booking, and if not there’s always people nearby who can direct you. There’s rarely booked out boats, so we left it until the day before sometimes to book, and as the prices didn’t change it was really easy to be a little more spontaneous.

Phi Phi is known as a party island, and it’s very apparent when you arrive. There’s no roads on the island, but it’s just a short walk to the backpacker haven of the beach front, with hostels, bars and all the young people. We decided to try the west side as we’d heard so many good things about Phuket and Phi Phi and thought “when in Rome!”. Although we were a little unsure and apprehensive, we actually ended up really embracing it all and loving it. We let our hair down, and had a wonderful last couple of nights being carefree and young. This of course improved our moods massively, and our attitude changed immediately. We were suddenly making lots of friends and feeling like the life and soul of the party as we boogied on the beach and enjoyed the fire shows and entertainment on offer.

In the day time on Phi Phi there are a few activities, some short walks to view points and kayaking, but the one we were really interested in was to Maya Bay. This day trip took us around Phi Phi to various places of interest and it is SO worth it. We didn’t know whether to go at first, but if you’re ever in doubt, try to enjoy and embrace it, you don’t know what you’d be missing out! The first stop was to Monkey Beach, which is quite a literal name for a small bay near the main port where monkeys quite happily approach people and extremely curious and cheeky, one even stole someones drink! they climb all over and it’s actually so much fun if you’re able to get past the whole “it’s an unknown wild animal” thought.

Next up the long tail boat took us out into the choppy waters to reach the heart of the Hat Nopparat Thara-Ko Phi Phi National Park (bear in mind the 400 Baht entry into the park). After a provided lunch we got to the main reason for the trip, to visit Maya Bay. This bay is known for being beyond stunning, and was used as the filming location for the movie The Beach made in 2000 by Danny Boyle and starring Leonardo Di Caprio. The bay did not disappoint, with crystal blue waters, white sands and enclosing islets of tall rock I felt like we were so lucky to be standing there, in paradise. The waters are choppy mind you, but an American guy and I swam our way over to a tiny bay just next to the main bay itself. This quirky bay felt like we’d stepping into a creepy movie scene, the piled rocks and makeshift swing were clear signs of past visitors, but the tides had long washed away and footprints and instead the sand was as soft as fresh snow, untouched and perfect. We walked around the park a little to other side of the bay, but of course Maya Bay is famous for a reason, as the other areas just don’t compare. Once it was sadly time to say goodbye, we were off to enjoy some snorkelling and generally trying to immerse ourselves in every detail, as we were aware this was to be our last beach day!

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Maya Bay

Monkey Beach

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Phi Phi Beach

“So never refuse an invitation, never resist the unfamiliar, never fail to be polite and never outstay the welcome. Just keep your mind open and suck in the experience. And if it hurts, you know what? It’s probably worth it.” 

After a brilliantly fun last night on the islands, it was back to the mainland to spend a night in Krabi. I’d heard good things about Krabi, but we didn’t have much of a chance to see anything besides the night market. This was to be our penultimate night before our flight home, so we were sort of becoming a little anxious and aware that it was all very quickly coming to an end.

For anyone planning to do a big trip, I would really recommend doing something like the Thai Islands LAST, because if you start out with them you might feel like you’ve peaked, but really it’s just beginning! Ending with them was a wonderful way to relax and prepare for going home, and at the end of being so busy we felt satisfied we’d achieved a lot, and ready to relax. We were also used to the culture, which made being on a little island with the potential of less access to amenities we were way more prepared than had we started there. There are plenty other things to do and see on the islands, our goal was purely beach based, but there’s a wealth of other things if napping and swimming isn’t your thing!

A short flight saw us heading back up to an awesome city. We revisited Chiang Mai because we felt we just weren’t finished there. There could have been so many places to visit again for our last night, but Chiang Mai made sense to us for a few reasons. We got there early in the morning, and headed straight out to our focal activity of the day. Art in Paradise is an immersive art gallery that changes the way you think about traditional artwork. The modern twist on classic works, landscapes and ideas was that you, the viewer are IN the work of art, and using tricks of the eye and optical illusion it was like being in an adults playground. I cannot stress enough how worth it visiting Art in Paradise is. We spent about 4 hours there in total and loved every second. We took far too many photos, so only a selection have been chosen for viewing!

Later that afternoon we headed to our favourite spot in Chiang Mai… the Night Bazaar! A bit of last minute bartering and spending resulted in a couple of nifty souvenirs, and we were done. We turned in for the night having had an awesome day of Thai life, a last Pad Thai and being tourists. The last night of dorm room sleep was pretty normal, and we woke up to feeling prepared for the mammoth journey home. We decided to spend our final morning just relaxing and enjoying each others company. We’d spent a long time together, not sleeping in separate rooms for 4 months is a crazy thought, and I couldn’t have wished to travel the world with a better friend. Emily was my rock in times of peak stress, my entertainment for so many conversations, my partner in crime, the ying to my yang. She is wonderful, and the thought of us separating was so surreal. And then, we were back in Bangkok boarding our flight to London. As we chatted briefly to people in the airport, they’d ask where we were going and we would excitedly/nervously explain that this was it! We felt we should have a loudspeaker and announce that we were GOING HOME. Part of us was excited for our bed, our comforts, Netflix, you know, normality. But I know as much as I was tired and probably ready to move on from Asia, I was not ready to go home. I think I changed a lot during the trip, and I liked very much who I had become, and wanted to explore more of soul-searching Suzy. Maybe a trip in the future will help to rekindle that self discovery, but for now, to quote Eminem, it’s back to reality. God I’m not a Gap Yah kid I swear! An emotional flight home, I watched movies that made me far too soppy and an anxious moment of seeing the motherland once again, I realised I had missed English clouds. A strange thing to miss, but they’re really unique I think! Baggage claim was smooth, and then there we were, through the gates, home and in my mum’s familiar embrace. Goodness it was lovely, but weird how un-weird it was. Everything the same, but maybe different too. I’m not sure how to explain the satisfaction of unpacking for the last time, and knowing exactly where everything is, all I know is that it’s great, but I will always miss the madness, chaos, and unpredictability from time to time. I imagine I’ll be reminiscing for years to come, and my main hope is that I’ll be back on a flight sooner than you think.

Art in Paradise

Home

“And me? I still believe in paradise. But now at least I know it’s not some place you can look for. Because it’s not where you go. It’s how you feel for a moment in your life when you’re a part of something. And if you find that moment… It lasts forever.”

And there we have it. I HAVE FINISHED THE RECOUNTING OF TALES i feel as though I can breath a sigh of relief.  Now I would say that I feel like Frodo just after he takes the Ring to Mordor, but you know what I’ve climbed Mount Doom and this was harder (I joke, please don’t make me do it again).

That’s all folks!

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