They know how to relax in Southern Thailand and there are many different “ways” to travel Thailand. The last time I went about 18 years ago, as a wide-eyed backpacker attending full moon parties, being hippyish and wearing fisherman pants. This time I travelled in a (slightly) more adult way, seeking resort-style relaxation, away from the busy, city work life in Sydney.
Thailand is a long, thin shaped country located in Southeast Asia, bordering Laos and Cambodia to the east, Malaysia to the south and Myanmar (Burma) to the west. The coastal areas border the Thai Gulf to the east and the Andaman sea to the west. The beaches in Thailand are white sand and turquoise waters with very high mountains rising straight out of the sea. There is also rivers and dense jungles, particularly in the north and interesting animal like water monitor lizards, monkeys and elephants (although there are almost no elephants left in the wild anymore).
To enjoy Thailand you have to be relaxed and go with the flow. There is a sort of ordered chaos to getting around. There isn’t rigorous queueing so expect to jostle onto a ferry, and for your ferry-driving to have a rollie hanging out of his mouth while he’s driving. Things might not leave exactly on time, or even at all if theres a tropical storm. Getting in and out of a long tail boat which ferries people around the islands can mean wading through the sea to get there. In our case, due to a storm, it was too dangerous for the boat to get too close to the beach so we waded in neck deep water to get to the boat. There was a family with small children and one of the Thai boat drivers sat the baby on his head to get there. She loved it! On another occasion when we stayed at Phi Phi Relax Resort, the waves were too big and we couldn’t go into the Phi Phi Village at all. Because the resort was only accessible via boat we had to stay and drink cocktails and swim in the sea all day – not too bad!
Buy one of those waterproof bags to put your valuables and handbag in (you can find these in lots of stalls around the islands and Phuket). Don’t bother taking really nice clothes, except perhaps a nice smart casual dress or something for a “date night” as you don’t want to worry about your clothes when you’re climbing in and out of boats or walking through hot, sweaty markets. Even at five star resort everyone wear flip-flops. I took carry-on luggage only and I was fine for a week.
There are many different types of tourist in Thailand and lots of things to do depending on your style. The great thing about Thailand is, it isn’t just all beaches and natural beauty, it’s also got an incredible culture and rich history, beautiful art and architecture and some of the best cuisine in the world. If you want adventure, you could hire a motorbike or scooter and ride around an island – like Koh Lanta, staying in little huts along the way (so cheap!). Or you could go kayaking through the jungle where monkeys swim out to your boat and try to steal your luggage (yes this happened to us!), or hire a long tail boat and explore the reefs and caves by snorkelling. If you want to be extravagant, stay at a five star resort and lie by the pool all day drinking very affordable cocktails made from fresh tropical fruits. If you want a mind and body rejuvenation do a yoga retreat, go on a detox and visit temples every day.
Southern Thailand has warm and welcoming people. You’d think the Thais in the south would have got sick of all the tourists (I know I would have!) but they are so genuine and welcoming. The friendliness of the people and the great beaches are why Thailand is sometimes referred to as the land of smiles…
Eat: Pad Thai, Pineapple fried rice (often served in a pineapple!), mango sticky rice (for dessert – pictured above), tropical fruit, green mango salad, all the seafood.
Drink: the local beers like Tiger and Chang, also try coconut milk and Thai iced tea. Don’t drink the tap water!
Listen to: The Beach soundtrack and Asian pop.
Watch out for:
- taxi drivers – trying to rip you off (only use metered taxis or official taxis at the airport where you pre-negotiate the price of your fare)
- tuk-tuk drivers taking detours – they often try to take you to jewellery or suit stores in city areas like Bangkok, even if you have no desire to go to them because they get commission for bringing you to their friend’s stores
- food poisoning – it’s quite common to get a case of the “Thai-arreah” if you drink the tap water or eat street food. Pack some nausea tablets and avoid eating meat and temperature-sensitive foods because after a tropical storms the refrigeration has likely broken down for a time.
- never insult the royal family, even in private, social media or text messages – this is considered a criminal offence
- rabies – monkeys and street dogs can have it. Stay clear and don’t feed them!
- “mushroom omelettes” and “space pizzas” – there are some bad stories
- drink spiking – especially around full moon parties
- pick-pocketing – especially in busy tourist areas, like markets
- tropical storms – ferry services can get disrupted during storms and be prepared for periods without air conditioning
Weather: It’s hot almost all the time, with monsoon season spanning from July to October where temperatures average 29 degrees with 90% humidity. November through to February are considered the best times to visit with some cooler weather (temperatures average 18-32 at this time of year). April is the hottest month and coincides with Songkran (Thai New Year) where people wear colourful clothing, douse each other in water and make offerings, like food to the monks or releasing birds and fish.
Religion: The main religion is Buddhism, but Hinduism and Chinese religions such as Taoism are also practiced and there is a large muslim community in southern Thailand.
Some great places to stay:
Phi Phi Relax Resort on Phi Phi Island is affordable and unique and is located on a protected reef so you can snorkel right off the beach. The accommodation is a series of huts, with little balconies for snoozing. The ones higher up the hill and on the beach have spectacular views! There is no electricity from 8am to 6pm so make sure you recharge your phone in the night and don’t get a shock when your fan goes off promptly at 8am. This resort is only accessible via boat, so you can get stranded if there is a storm, so pack a good book or head to the little reggae bar! There is lots of wildlife which is great! My friend even ended up with an encounter with a frog while on the loo. Catch a ferry to Phi Phi Island from Phuket.
Room costs: around $45 AUD in low season and $140 in peak season per night.
PP Red Tuna Hut is a rustic shack-like place located around a 20 minute boat ride from Phi Phi Pier. They really look after you here and it’s located in a great village with some amazing restaurants and great bars! The locals are really fun which we discovered when we lost our key and had to spend the whole night until 5am waiting for the owner (Tuna) to arrive. It’s set on a river and it’s so tranquil being away from the main drag and watching the tides and fisherman come in and out. There is a beach a ten minute walk away and a 5 star resort if you feel like getting fancy for dinner one night.
Room cost: around $76-$135 per night.
Rawi Warin Resort and Spa in Koh Lanta is a five star resort, consisting of beautiful buildings, both huts and hotel rooms, set on a private beach – with a netted sea baths! Or a natural water infinity pool if thats more your scene – cleaned using oxygen. There are lovely gardens and an amazing buffet breakfast overlooking them. Sip cocktails by the pool, get massages or do something a bit different and go squid fishing, kayaking or snorkelling. Just down the road is a selection of great restaurants serving exquisite seafood. You can also hire scooters just across the road and ride around the island if you get sick of lounging by the pool. There is a great little village a short truck ride away called Koh Lanta Old Town where you can have a mango sticky rice at Rear-view cafe, or catch a tuk-tuk to the night markets near the Saladan Pier. At night we sat on our ocean facing balcony at the top of the hill watching the sunset, while the call to prayer echoed through the mountains from a nearby mosque and the smell of grilled squid wafted in our window.
Cost: $200-1,300 per night
Baan Sutra Guest House is very simple but it’s the great service that makes it so nice. We headed there straight from Phuket Airport and had a relaxing night. Then we could explore the beautiful Phuket Old Town where it’s located the next day. Phuket Old Town is full of cute cafes and beautiful artisan shops. The staff helped us book our ferry to Phi Phi Island too and we were picked up right from the door.
Room cost: from $34 per night