In this entry our very own Luke Mac (#10 ranked tour guide according to TourRadar.com and out of 1000’s of guides form some big ass companies…) takes a look into some of the jaw dropping things you will notice when you slip into the Thai dimension (some of which become more normal and some of which never ever will…). Enjoy.
I’d never been on a motorbike with more than two people before 2009, but nowadays it surprises me to see one go by with two or less passengers. Whilst you do start to expect to see sites like this living in Thailand, there are some things that the western eye/mind will never quite get used to… Almost every day I see things that either make me chuckle or make my jaw drop. In fact, I often wish I had a camera permanently attached to me, or some of those Google glasses things so I could document all of them and share with people back home.
While the group and I are in Bangkok we stay in a guesthouse a stone’s throw away from the debauchery of Khao San Road. It is far enough to get a good night sleep if needed but also close enough to roll home in a bucket fuelled state if you decide to go out and sample it. Khao San is a bit of a guilty pleasure, but due to the sheer variety of people you get here from all over the world (or universe as it sometimes appears), it is perhaps one of the best people watching spots I know of and it’s always a laugh just to sit and have a beer while the madness unfolds.
One of the bars at which you are almost guaranteed to meet people and see some interesting sites is the Khao San Centre Bar. From here you can easily see some of the odd goings on in the street which to me never get old, for example the look on the drunken foreigners’ face when he realises that the beautiful Thai girl he’s scored for the evening is actually not a girl at all!
One of the things that does get old quite quickly though are the ever persistent street vendors, particularly the little Thai ladies hell bent on selling you wooden frogs which mimic ribbeting sounds. At first these women are amusing,then they become annoying, before finally, after countless trips to Bangkok, they become strangely endearing. No matter how many times they have seen you however, they will continue to brandish the wooden frog six inches in front of your face, repeating “YOU BUY NA’ YOU BUY?” or just making the bloody frog noise over and over.
Bangkok Break Dancers
A sight which is bound to impress no matter how many times you see it is the Bangkok B-Boys showing off their break dancing skills on the street. Each night these lads put on a 10 minute show at least 6 times up and down Khaosan and the surrounding streets to try and earn some coin from the sight seers and party goers. You can tell where they are from a mile off because they always have a large crowd watching and it is easy to see why, every time I see them these guys make me stop and stare whilst they perform amazing feats of acrobatics, strength and funk.
The madness doesn’t stop in Bangkok however, even today after living here for a good few years, some bus journeys in more remote parts can sometimes seem a bit like you’re slipping into the seventh circle of hell. I’m a firm believer in keeping your eyes away from the road… Luckily as I write this blog, I can’t see the road as I’m curled up in the aisle of a bus due to the ticket office thinking they had seats left when apparently they didn’t… ahh Thailand! Note: The transport we take with the groups however (private mini vans, ferries, long tails and night train) is not nearly as scary as the dodgy bus journeys Luke refers to here which he and several of us have taken in varying places around Asia.
Partly for this reason we take the overnight train down south to Surat Thani when we leave Bangkok. Along the journey several vendors get on and off the train and try to sell us beer and other refreshments. Every time I get on it I tell myself that this time I won’t succumb to their charming sales tactics, however, every time the same guy manages to convince me to buy a beer by pressing the cold can on my arm, saying ‘yen mak mak’ (very cold) and bearing his gigantic toothless smile, that Thai smile which to this day I find it so hard to say no to and which the country is well renowned for.
Khao Sok National Park
Of course it’s not just the unusual things that make my jaw drop, when we get off the train, we head to the unbelievably beautiful Khao Sok national park. A hidden gem tucked away in Thailand’s mainland which most backpackers and visitors to Thailand never even hear about, let alone get to visit. Every time I travel there with a group I gawk in amazement at the surrounding scenery which reminds me of something from Jurassic Park, frankly you half expect to see a T-Rex burst from the jungle, thankfully though this hasn’t happened just yet. After a boat ride and a swim beneath the beautiful karsts we spend the day kayaking or floating in tubes on the giant fresh water lake and the night in floating bungalows under the mountains and stars. Waking up in the morning to see clouds drifting below the peaks and stepping out straight into the lake for a morning swim is something else that will never get old. Here’s a little sneak peak for you…
If you are heading to any of the Thai islands as we do after Khao Sok, you will almost certainly see a few ‘fire shows’. These always take place outside beach bars and consist mainly of Thai/Burmese guys with fire sticks and ‘poi’ (balls on chains) which they set on fire and spin really quickly. I have honestly lost count of the number of fire shows I’ve now seen in Thailand (also the amount of times I’ve triedand failed to spin fire), each and every resort or beach bar seems to have their own army of fire boys who spin fire every night to the music playing on the beach. The fire shows are always impressive (especially if you have not seen one before) and usually make you stop and order a drink. One of my favourite fire dancers is a guy called ‘Babu’ who is our host at the idyllic ‘Bottle Beach’. Being one of the most secluded beaches on the island, the atmosphere is unsurprisingly so relaxed that most of the staff and visitors appear horizontal for most of the day. Babu himself may not be the fastest fire spinner I’ve seen but he does have a certain elegance about his movements as he spins the poi to ambient music as we sip on whiskey and watch the tide roll away.
The Beauty of Koh Phangan
In the last few days of the tour we take the group around the island to the various lesser known spots where you can visit waterfalls, see monkeys, snorkel with schools of fish or sit on an empty white sandy beach. It’s always nice to show to people places like these on an island which is so renowned for its party scene and the various horror stories which have come about over the years. When the group actually see that there is so much more to the island than whiskey buckets and glow paint, and we visit spots like ‘Koh Ma’ or ‘Wiang Sai Waterfall’, I can’t help but remember how special a place Koh Phangan still truly is.
Bargains & Cheap Food!
One of the greatest things for a foreigner visiting Thailand is often the price of everyday things like food and beer. It still surprises me how cheap you can eat for here and often when I visit a restaurant with a group of people (despite the fact that I usually know how much almost everything on the menu is) the total price on the bill will make my jaw drop. In some places, food and drink for up to eight people can be as little as £20, one of these places is ‘My Friend’ restaurant in Haad Rin, which is not only cheap but also delicious! One of the things my mates dad noticed recently when visiting Thailand is that there is often no relationship between price and quality of meals – in some places people naturally expect a meal to be better quality if it is more expensive, however in Thailand you can easily get a curry or a pad thai for £1 which tastes 10 times better than one bought from a ‘posh’ restaurant for £10. This is especially true in the more touristy spots as there are more and more ‘western’ style restaurants popping up to cater for tourists which charge several times more than the shack next door for the same meal. This is why it’s good to know some of the spots where the locals go so you can eat tasty, authentic Thai food without stretching your backpacking budget!
The Full Moon Party
Most backpackers coming to Thailand will have heard of the Full Moon party and many will plan on going to one. Due to the fact that we finish the tour in Haad Rin and have a permanent base there, I am often on the full moon beach and get to experience the party and the build up to it most months. There are just too many things about both the party and its attendees that either make me laugh or make my jaw drop (or both) to list here, but the one that you will notice immediately on arrival is the sheer number of people who turn up. Every month around 20,000 people (some months up to 50,000) flock to Sunrise Beach in Haad Rin for an evening of whiskey buckets, neon paint, fire shows, foam parties and dancing. I must admit I am not the biggest ‘Haad Rin-er’ and I like to get to some of the lesser known parties on the island when I can, but no matter who you are, you can’t help but smile when you see a party of that scale, and that number of people dancing/staggering around on one of the most beautiful islands in the world. Do remember though, that Koh Phangan has so much more to it than just this party #Notallaboutthefullmoon.
So, these are just a few of the many things about Thailand that never fail to surprise/amuse/inspire me. There are many, many more and those of you who have not yet visited Thailand or Asia will certainly be gawking in amazement at the sites you will see. In fact, one of the best parts of my job is seeing people’s reactions when we take them to these amazing places and hearing their feedback at the end of the week when they tell me what an awesome time they’ve had. This will never get old and is very much part of the TruTravels philosophy. We want not only to give people peace of mind that their first weeks in the country are completely taken care of and they will not be travelling alone, but we also want to give them the experience of a lifetime and show them places & things they probably wouldn’t find on their own. Unlike many conventional, longer tours, ours give people the option to travel as part of a group and independently. We do not hold you to rigid timescales/itineraries and our tours are short so you can get used to the country with us and then go on to do some travel on your own or with your new travel mates if you like. We will even give you loads of advice on where to go, how to get there etc so you can have a bit of expert help planning the rest of your trip. So, whilst it does sound a little cheesy, amongst the many things that make me feel lucky to be where I am is having the opportunity to show people cool stuff, share my knowledge and experiences, and genuinely help give people some of the best times of their lives.
For those budding backpackers out there, I urge you to take the leap and explore the weird and wonderful charms of Thailand with us. Check out our social media channels: Insta, FB, Youtube for a look into what we do and how we’re different or have a read of our reviews on Tourradar – just search TruTravels!. You won’t regret it and no matter what your reaction to the madness, I assure you, it’s a madness that will stick with you forever and leave you wanting more.
See you on the beach!
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