Bangkok – Chang Mai – Koh Tao – An Epic 20 Day Tour of Thailand

Thailand is a fantastic country full of diverse landscapes and cultures with the most friendly people, vibrant cities and bustling markets and, of course, idyllic tropical beaches!

On 3rd December 2010, we departed for our epic 20 day tour of Thailand. Starting in Bangkok, a city full of ancient temples, markets and street vendors selling anything and everything under the sun.

Arriving on 4th December, after the most amazing flight with Thai Airways, we checked in to our perfectly placed hotel which was a 7-10 minute walk from Koh San Road.

Koh San Road is amazing for ‘people watching’ over a few Changs (or San Migs in our case….we hadn’t learned the ropes yet), buying your clothes and anything you may have forgotten. The hustle and bustle is crazy and you will either love it or hate it. We love it!

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A tour of Bangkok by tuk-tuk followed.

On 5th December, unbeknown to us, it was the King of Thailand’s birthday. Everyone took the day off. There were parties in the street, candles, songs and fireworks. What a stroke of luck to be here to experience this. My picture of the King is most awesome. His Majesty hadn’t been seen in public for many years due to ill health but he was released from hospital the day prior and made an appearance.  It is him in the white mini-van. Honestly.

The morning after hurt (Thai Whiskey for 10 bht has a lot to answer for) but we jumped into the mini-van and met the most awesome group of people who we would be travelling with and are, to this day, fab friends. Our first point of call was the region around Kanchanaburi where we visited the floating markets before we headed on to the River Kwai.

We rode aboard a train which runs on the original tracks of the Burma ‘Death’ Railway and visited the Bridge over the River Kwai. We were moved and humbled learning about the history of this area.

Leaving this area, we took a boat down the jungle river. Surrounded by bamboo woods and jungle, we spent the night in a wooden cabin, lit by oil lamps and floating on the river. Here, we had great fun jumping straight into the water from our front porch and let the current take us down stream. Only a rope from the floating raft we were living on stopped us from being swept away. Great fun! The next day we travelled by boat to the Erawan waterfalls and took a dip in the wonderfully clear waters, along with the locals. Dip your feet, have a swim…..the fish will give you a free “fish spa” on all of your inevitable mozzy bites! It’ll save you 200bht, too 😉

The walk up to the 7th waterfall is really worth the pain. Trust me.

We had our tickets for our couchette aboard the comfortable air conditioned overnight sleeper train from Bangkok’s Hua Lampong train station to Chiang Mai. An awesome experience. The team make your beds up when you’re ready (they will also wake you at 2am asking for a lighter) and we were greeted at 7am with a cooked Thai breakfast.

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The north of Thailand was our next destination, an area full of culture with small hill tribes, lush jungles and elephants. This two day soft trek features all of the highlights of the harder longer trek, but with less of the actual hiking. Bonus! We covered the longer distances by săwngthăew (converted pickup truck taxi), and we were on foot for no longer than three hours a day, although in the heat, it feels much longer. A few local delicacies at a local market en route (I think they call it protein loading) – I was the only person to try them – and we were ready to crack on.

We had almost completed the trek into the depths of the jungle when I fell down the mountain breaking our only camera. As you do. One of the highlights of our trip was staying with the hill tribes, seeing how resourceful and hospitable they were. We made dinner by oil lamp, drank local stuff (potent as hell), slept on the floor in our hut and woke up to the sounds of the jungle and an elephant sticking it’s head through our hut window. Heaven.

During the last part of the journey, we drifted peacefully downstream in a bamboo raft, taking in the breathtaking scenery that surrounded us.

We then travelled on to Chiang Mai for a final couple of days; a trip to Mae Rim for Tiger Kingdom (The tigers, aged 3 months to 4 years, are not sedated or de-clawed like they are at other tiger places in Thailand)

Back for some epic shopping. The night market is something to behold. We had to buy more luggage!

The next day, I grabbed a chicken sandwich from a local deli that, half way through, I noticed was still raw (I would learn quickly that street food is best).

Next stop was the old capital city of Ayutthaya, by sleeper train, to see its historic crumbling temples. Ayutthaya is a forgotten royal city. The former capital of Thailand, it is full of temples from the Khmer era, and is the closest thing to Angkor Wat in Thailand. . We took a tour of the city by tuk-tuk at sunset, which offered spectacular views of the dramatically lit ruins, as the sun slowly set over the town. The chicken sandwich came back to haunt me and I was violently ill for 4 days. I will spare you the grim details.

Back to Bangkok to pick up a train, then a bus, to take us to Surat Thani for our ferry to the sun, sea and sand on the Islands off the east coast of Thailand; Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao.

Koh Phangan has an amazing jungle interior to explore and the most beautiful beaches. We didn’t move and simply read, tanned, ate, drank and walked. Proper R&R.

Koh Samui was idyllic. The catamaran to Koh Tao wasn’t. Rough seas and a storm meant many were delayed or cancelled. When we finally got on, it was THE most horrific experience I’ve ever had at sea. Every single person was sea-sick. Including the team on-board. Sick swam in the isles for an hour and a half. Wails from behind of “will somebody help me” when there was literally no-one able to.

When we did arrive, I’ve never been so happy to be on dry land. I was a tad emosh, to say the least.

Koh Tao has equally amazing beaches, great scuba diving / snorkelling locations and a laid-back vibe to it. We stayed in a tree house with all manner of local residents (snakes, lizards, water monitors etc) popping by to say hello. A tad unnerving to start, but we quickly got used to it and we fell in love with Koh Tao.

After, what was a holiday of a lifetime, it was that time to head back to Bangkok for a final nights’ farewell to Thailand. An utterly amazing country and one we will definitely be heading back to. The people are amazing, the food spectacular, the culture we connected to, the history we were humbled by. It felt like our 2nd home.

I should explain that we have never backpacked, I don’t leave home without my GHD’s and the concept of basic accommodation left me a tad uncertain about whether I would enjoy this trip. BUT, we are both up for trying anything once and this was an adventure. We LOVED it! Seriously. This was the best experience we’d ever had whilst travelling. Eat off the street, stay with the locals, get off the beaten track and see the real Thailand. You will not regret it.

Our trip was booked with Rickshaw Travel and cost £1170 per person for land and air arrangements.

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Family, Cats, Food Nerd, Gin Queen, People. Not HR.

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