Railay, Tonsai and My Last Days in Thailand

Well this is going to be my last post about Thailand. I spent my last few days in Ao Nang area and it was a nice spot to finish my holiday. It also gave a beginning to a new hobby.

We wanted to go to Railay but picked Ao Nang just to keep the accommodation costs low, since we thought Railay was slightly too expensive. I wouldn’t call Ao Nang an extremely exciting place, you can watch some nice sunsets from the beach and it’s got a decent restaurant choice but otherwise it’s nothing too special.

Ahhh and we got to observe an insane intensity rain there…

Anyway, the town’s got a good boat service to Railay, although it might be a long walk on the wet sand from/to the boat if the tide is low.

When we finally got to Railay it felt like a wee paradise, even if it’s a popular and even slightly crowded place. First thing we did there, we went up to the view point, although it wasn’t so much of a viewpoint for me since I couldn’t trust an old ladder and didn’t really get up to the top (Craig was kind enough to share his photos).

We also tried sea kayaking, but my sea sickness quickly kicked in so I was desperate to get out of water.

We also booked a climbing session for the next day. I’d never climbed before, but was keen to try. Craig used to climb and was really keen to do it in one of the top climbing locations in the world.

The next day when the time was to tackle my first route ever, I was really freaking out. I’m scared of heights and that fear really kicked in. I was hanging on the wall almost in tears. I felt weak and stupid that I agreed to do that sort of thing. But those feelings also made me angry and the anger turned into determination. When I went back to Scotland I was soon doing a proper training course and climbing twice a week. It’s been almost two years now, I’m still scared of heights but the climbing and the fear of it remind me that I’m alive and give me a sense of achievement.

After the day of climbing we were exhausted and decided to rent a scooter and explore Krabi town. When we got there we realised there wasn’t much to see. We ended up cruising around and enjoying the karst hill scenery. Somehow we ended up in this national park (would love if anyone could tell me where I was) with a couple of waterfalls and a view point. The waterfalls were ok, but I was not ready to go up to the viewpoint. I was wearing a dress and a pair of flip flops that were barely holding together and would pop out from time to time (Craig was amused by every “blow out”) so I ended up hiking barefoot. It was a really steep way up, I was sweating loads and when we nearly got to the top we met this German guy who looked exhausted and almost unable to speak. He was just shaking his head and saying noooooo on his way down. Soon we found out that the viewpoint is just a wee gap between the trees and it was so hazy that you couldn’t see anything. What a waste of effort!

Wouldn’t recommend going there, but I don’t know how the place is called so I just trust you not to get there by mistake.

For our last night we decided to move to Tonsai. You can walk there from Railay through water and over the rocks, which is a bit tricky when carrying large backpacks. There is this big wall separating private land near the beach and the houses. It’s a very chilled environment and loads of rock climbers like to stay there. The accommodation was basic but chilled so I really enjoyed it. We had a very trippy evening, swimming and watching rock climbers and base jumpers that so unexpectedly showed up when we decided to stay a bit longer in the water. We went to sleep early just to wake up early the next morning.

On the way to the beach that morning I spotted some dusky leaf monkeys sitting on the trees. It was the first time I saw them live and they looked really cute, but not when one of them climbed down and started showing its teeth. I was scared and thought it would attack me so ran away quickly. Never trusting any monkeys again!

It was a shame the tide was low that morning so we couldn’t go for a swim no matter how far in we were going. Anyway, it was time to pack and go home, the awesome holiday was over…

Koh Lanta

This island was such a treat! I always imagined the South of Thailand to be relaxed, with loads of beautiful beaches and nice atmosphere. Obviously Phuket was far from that image and when I finally got to Koh Lanta it made me appreciate the island even more.

Two things I learned there – I am terrified of scuba diving and I get sea sick! The latter shouldn’t have been such a huge surprise since I didn’t grow up near water. However, it was a very new and unpleasant sensation so to some extent it was nice to be surprised by my own body.

Anyway, I will start from the beginning. Craig wanted to do some scuba diving for his birthday, so I thought I would give it a go as well. Didn’t get any further than the swimming pool since I was totally freaking out about being unable to move freely and feeling that I couldn’t breathe as soon as I put my head under water. I don’t feel comfortable in water in the first place, I’ve never done any snorkeling either, so perhaps deciding to jump straight into scuba diving wasn’t a great decision. Me looking disappointed in the photo below.

I don’t like failing at things so obviously I was really frustrated, but I decided to give snorkeling a go instead. I met a Latvian girl and we decided to spend a day together snorkeling. We booked a three island tour, which was absolutely great (even if the boats seemed a bit crowded).

It was uncomfortable breathing through the snorkel at first, but I quickly got used to it and I could not believe how amazing it was to observe life under water. The amount of fish and their colours were so breathtaking that I couldn’t get enough.

We visited two spots and spent about 45min at each and then suddenly I started feeling unwell. I was lucky my Latvian friend had some tablets against motion sickness and that we were just about to jump out on the island for lunch. I quickly started feeling better and even managed to eat my lunch. Afterwards we went for a walk around the island which was magnificent – surrounded by white sands and bright blue waters. The island got really crowded in no time as more boats were arriving for lunch. It was still possible to take a photo pretending as if nobody else was around.

Craig enjoyed his scuba diving trip and during the rest of our time in Koh Lanta we spent some time exploring the island, its towns, cafes and beach bars. One day we just jumped on the scooter and went all around the island.

There were some great and very scenic roads through the hills to get to Lanta’s Old town. I really enjoyed wandering around the town, which had some beautiful old wooden houses built on stilts, although can’t really see that from my photos.

I also finally got to try some sticky mango rice there and absolutely loved it.

There was a lot of good food on the island and I couldn’t get enough of fresh fish. My happy face & fresh fish in photo below.

I loved the variety of beach bars there. Every one of them just felt so cosy and relaxing. Could spend all my days there reading and sipping fresh coconut juice.

The island hadsome amazing places where at night you could chill in hammocks and watch a random fire shows on the beach.

Koh Lanta was exactly how I imagined the south of Thailand to be and I absolutely loved my time there. I just hope one day I can overcome the fear of scuba diving which I now know exists.

Phuket Island

After freezing in Northern Thailand for nearly two weeks, it was amazing to land in Phuket Island and finally drop all the warm layers.

It was quite a big shock coming there after spending so much time in rural Thailand and I don’t think I will be rushing back to the island anytime soon. However, we were there for the New Years party and it turned out to be an incredible experience.

We decided to stay near Kata beach, which was a nice spot for relaxing away from the crowds (especially compared to the madness in Patong). During the four days there we became regulars at Kwong Shop Seafood restaurant which did amazing fresh seafood and we watched some incredible sunsets on Kata beach.

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Kata was a short tuk tuk ride away from Patong, the main NY party spot, but on the night the drivers were charging some crazy cash for getting into Patong. Don’t even try to bargain too hard, might save some pennies but won’t be worth it…

We started our night with some Muay Thai, which I wasn’t convinced about but it was part of the experience. We then had an amazing dinner in one of the restaurants in Patong (I wish I could remember the name…), got a bit tipsy and headed to the beach.

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The streets were absolutely mad! People were spraying silly string on each other and I was absolutely loving it! I used my cans in no time and had a really good laugh (even when I got sprayed back).

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The sky turned into the sea of lanterns, the beach was full of people and loud music. It was such an incredible atmosphere, it’s hard to describe it. At midnight, it felt like every stranger was hugging each other and fireworks never seemed to end.

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We partied on the beach for a while and then end up meeting a bunch of Russians who were determined to go back to their hotel to watch Putin’s speech. It was so random and we decided to go along with it. It was a crazy night full of laughter and one of my favourite New Years celebrations!

We spent some time exploring Phuket Island, but I don’t have that many photos from there, not even sure why. We jumped on a scooter one day and just went wherever our eyes took us. It felt like the island was full of contrasts – some extremely developed areas built for tourists and some quieter but very poor looking places. As I said, I won’t be in a hurry to go back, but it was nice to go a bit crazy in the island where everyone has the same plan.

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Mae Hong Son Loop

Now thinking back on this adventure I can say it’s one of the most amazing things I have ever done.  As I told you in my previous post, I crashed my scooter the day before I left Chiang Mai to do a Mae Hong Song loop. Needless to say I was extremely nervous about doing 650km on Thai roads which actually turned out to be 860km and are saved in my memory as some of the happiest days of my Thailand trip.

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Day 1: Chiang Mai – Don Inthanon – Mae Chaem – 140km

We decided to do the loop anticlockwise and to head towards Doi Inthanon, the highest peak in Thailand (2565m). The start was slow and I remember going 40km/hour, being terrified of traffic, but it all improved as soon as we left Chiang Mai. The roads got quieter and I started enjoying the ride.

It also got colder the closer we got to Doi Inthanon. We expected to find hot weather in Thailand, so didn’t pack too many warm clothes, but it got so chilly the higher we went that I just remember shivering on my bike most of the afternoon.

Getting to the top of Thailand was worth the effort, even if it was freezing and some parts of the road were so steep and winding that I didn’t think my 150cc scooter would manage (but it did easily).

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After Don Inthanon we still had a long way to go to Mae Chaem. We arrived after the sunset, completely freezing and with sore bums. It was a long day! Mae Chaem was really lovely and tiny, which gave a sense of being far off the tourist track (we only saw couple of foreigners). It only had couple of places where we could get some food, but the food was delicious and we had some live entertainment that evening.

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Day 2: Mae Chaem to Mae Sariang, 128km

My confidence on the roads grew and it was slightly warmer that day, so I was finally enjoying the ride. Only in the afternoon we joined a bit of road that was dusty and busy with lorries which I did not found too pleasant. But a nice coffee gave me a power boost and we managed to get to Mae Sariang even earlier than planned. The town was rural but so much busier than Mae Chaem.

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That night we slept with all our clothes on. We later found out that the temperature dropped to the lowest figures the area had in more than 10 years. Unlucky!

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Day 3: Mae Sariang to Mae Hong Son 164km (plus a bit for the Salawin national park)

We got up and decided to explore Salawin national park nearby. We were asked to leave our scooters at the park entrance and were pointed towards the nature trail.

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The trail was OK but there was no wildlife around and the English translations of some plant descriptions were challenging to read. Bamboo bamboo bamboo….

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We left the park not entirely convinced it was worth a visit. However, the day on the road was extremely enjoyable. I was getting quite confident on my scooter, the roads were really good quality, scenic and pretty quiet. I absolutely loved it.

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We stopped in Mae Hong Song for couple of nights, it was the 23rd December and we decided to stay here for Christmas. We booked Sang Tong Hut which was a perfect choice. Lovely bamboo huts, nice owners and they also had a fire going most of the time (perfect for those chilly evenings!). We met two German guys there who told us about the route to the Myanmar border so we decided to check it out the next day.

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Day 4: A wee detour to Myanmar border (no idea how many km)

The day started slowly and it took us ages to get some breakfast in Mae Hong Son but eventually we were on the way to Myanmar.

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I am now looking at google maps and trying to figure out where exactly we went.  I remember we were given a map with some interesting villages to visit nearby but I think we just headed past them (although stopped at some waterfall) and went up north to what google maps call “Scenic border with Thailand – Myanmar”. There were a few guards around who showed us the view point and then let us cross the border without even bothering to check our passports. We had to leave our scooters in Thailand though.

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To be honest, we soon found out that the village across the border was pretty small and there was nowhere else to go since there was no road past it. We just ended up watching kids and some Buddhist monks (also kids) playing football and then walked back to Thailand.

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Played with guard dogs as well
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On the way back we went to check a place called Pang Tong. It had a lovely lake and pine tree forests and seemed like a popular spot for camping. Honestly, I just wished we were staying there that night but we went back to Mae Hong Son and had a hot pot dinner on our Christmas Eve.

Day 5: Mae Hong Son to Pai – 107km (plus detours)

We started our morning with a ride up to Wat Phra That Doi Kongmu temple for some white Christmas (sorry, I know it’s cheesy!). A beautiful white temple with great views of the surroundings, definitely recommended.

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We also stopped in a few places along the road to Pai that were recommended to us. One of them was called Ban Jabo village known for beautiful panoramic views and cool cafes where, as they say, you can eat with your feet above the clouds.

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We also stopped to explore the biggest cave system at Tham Lot, which has a length of 1666m and millions of bats. Worth a stop if you have some time.

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We had a lovely ride that day, enjoyed the sunset while still on the road and arrived to Pai at night.

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While looking for our hotel we accidentally drove into some yard where three huge dogs came running after and barking at us. They looked really scary and I thought they would definitely bite us. They left us alone for a moment but then unfortunately we found out there was no way out and we’d have to go past these dogs again to get on the main street. We then spotted another gate that had a pedestrian access open, so we ended up lifting our scooters over the ramp. It was heavy, but we were so scared to go past the dogs again, that it didn’t matter.

We made it to our Christmas dinner in one piece and I was thinking that it was probably the best Christmas ever.

Day 6: Pai

We just spent a day relaxing and exploring Pai. It was weird to be in such a busy place after spending almost a week in rural Thailand. But it was awesome to get some really tasty food, explore the town and chill.

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Day 7: Pai

We decided to stay an extra day in Pai since it was pouring and we felt tired. We also heard that the road from Pai back to Chiang Mai is extremely winding, with loads of people having accidents so we thought we better not risk it in such a poor weather.

We had enough time to stay in Pai thanks to my perfect planning skills, but had to cancel a guesthouse in Chiang Mai. We are still laughing when we remember the message received from the guesthouse owner, he told us to f*ck off! In the days of perfect customer service, that sort of things doesn’t happen very often.

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Day 8: Pai to Chiang Mai- 130km

So it was a sunny day again and we were ready to hit the road (not literally). I think my scooter skills were really quite good by then since I didn’t even find the road to be too challenging. I think during the week we were on so many crazy roads that the last bit just seemed normal. We were back to Chiang Mai in no time.

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Craig stopped at the side of the road specifically to pet this dog

I was worried that I might get charged extra for a wee scratch on the scooter that I got when I crashed it a week or so ago, but the guy from the rental shop just took the key, his wife jumped on it straight away and went to do some grocery shopping. I wished everyone was so relaxed.

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We then went back to the guesthouse where we stayed before, picked up our luggage and went to find a bus to Chiang Rai. Apparently all the buses were booked out, but we got a taxi half price since the driver was heading back home to Chiang Rai anyway. We arrived to Chiang Rai later than we planned so didn’t get to see that cool white temple everyone was talking about. We wandered around the night market instead, tried some delicious curry (Khao Soi) and so we finished our adventures in the North of Thailand. It was time to head south for some New Years fun!

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Chiang Mai

Well this is definitely going to be a short post. All I remember about Chiang Mai was that after an incredibly relaxing massage I rented my first ever scooter and if you read my last post you can see what’s coming… Yes, I crashed it!

After practicing in Ayutthaya the day before I felt I could ride it, but Chiang Mai turned out to be a much busier place and that freaked me out a bit. I had to do a U-turn from one three lane road into another and that did not go well. I don’t know what exactly went wrong but I ended up with a scooter lying in the middle of the road. The worst part was that when I tried to pick it up I didn’t switch off the engine and accidentally turned the throttle, so that got me running after my scooter and eventually I dropped it again. Must have been a miserable sight… Anyway, some nice local lady (who’s probably used to seeing foreigners doing stuff like that) came to help, switched off the engine and moved my scooter to the side of the road.

I was so shocked that I couldn’t even remember where exactly I was staying or how I was going to get there, but luckily my boyfriend came back and found me. I was really lucky I ended up with just a few bruises (and no major damage to the bike). The rest of the day was all about relaxing and trying to decide whether I was brave enough to tackle the Mae Hong Son loop, which is approx. 600km with nearly 800 curves. I decided to give it a go and take it slowly and it was the best decision ever that lead to one of the most exciting weeks in my life. I’ll tell you all about it in the next post 🙂

P.S. I never thought I would write a separate post on this event, but I bought a motorcycle three months ago and it’s incredible to think about where it all started and how far I’ve come.

Ayutthaya

There was one slightly silly reason why I wanted to go to Ayutthaya – Wat Mahathat’s root-covered Buddha head. The picture of it was hanging on my wall when I was at uni and I never thought I would get to see the real thing. The head is probably the most common reason why people come to visit Ayutthaya, however Thailand’s former capital has much more to offer.

Ayutthaya was thought to be the largest city in the world and a huge trading hub, but in 1767 the Burmese army invaded Ayutthaya and completely destroyed the city, including temples and Buddha statues. The city was abandoned till the 20th century and when Thai Government decided to restore and protect the city. Ayutthaya is now one of the most popular places to visit in Thailand.

The city is only a short (~1.5hr) train ride away from Bangkok’s Hua Lamphong station, so it is quite conveniently located if you just want to do a day trip. We were heading up north and had a bit of time, so decided to stop in Ayutthaya for couple of nights.

It was nice to get away from busy Bangkok and I really enjoyed the first impressions of Ayutthaya – loads of beautiful temples, ruins, lakes with huge water monitor lizards chilling around and relaxed atmosphere. There was also a huge market (not sure if it’s always there) with so much choice for food and the best fried chicken that Craig and I keep remembering on various occasions.

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We spent a lot of time wandering around Ayutthaya, admiring the temples, visiting floating market and I finally got a chance to see the root-covered Buddha head, which was so much smaller than I expected but impressive nonetheless.

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Ayutthaya is also a special place for me, since it is where I first learned to ride a scooter. Which then over a year later lead me to buying a motorcycle! Anyway, it is a different story and I will start from the beginning.

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We were heading up North to do the Mae Hong Song loop and Craig, who’s been riding a motorbike for 10 years, suggested I tried riding a scooter before we committed to the whole loop (it is over 600km). Probably the best suggestion ever and we managed to find a perfect spot for a learner rider. So an hour or so later, with a bit of practice off road, I got on the road with Craig on the back. Thought he was being brave, but to be honest I did pretty well and I was feeling confident I could do Mae Hong Song. Little did I know I would crash on my first ride alone… But this is a story for the next post and I am going to be mean and leave you here for now…

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The Start of Thailand Trip and Bangkok

I really couldn’t wait to start writing about Thailand. Thinking about it now, traveling there has influenced my current lifestyle more than any other trip. I will explain how in my future posts, since there is a lot to write about almost four weeks in Thailand. It’s been a year and a half since I came back, but things that I experienced there gave a start to some bigger events in my life (like the fact I bought a motorcycle a month ago).

Let me start from the beginning. I was picking a place to go on holiday over Christmas and NY and I knew it would be somewhere in South East Asia.  I had a few options, but wasn’t convinced any of them were right, so decided to chat with a guy from work, Craig, who recently came back from a year of traveling in the region.

I told Craig I wanted to head to Thailand, but thought the place would be too crowded and perhaps not that enjoyable. He managed to convince me I was wrong and said there is plenty for everyone to choose from.

I booked my flights and couple of months later Craig has his flight booked as well. A lot happened in those months and the result was that Craig and I started dating and he spontaneously decided to come to Thailand with me.

The first few days were a bit of a blur. We arrived to Bangkok and stayed there couple of nights, trying to fight a jet lag.  Picking a place with a huge rooftop pool was one of the best decisions as I spent couple of sleepless mornings going for a swim or reading a book by the pool.

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I had an idea for a photo and it worked out perfectly!

One afternoon, feeling slightly more alive, we went for a wander. We jumped in a water taxi and headed to Wat Pho temple. There are loads of temples to choose from in Bangkok and I am not going to lie, Wat Pho was a completely random choice, but turned out to be a great one, giving a chance to see a giant reclining Buddha.

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Even though the streets or everything else about the city remains a bit of the blur, I clearly remember some food we had there. One of the best Tom Yum soups I tried in Thailand was served in Bangkok (I think the place was called Yana) and we had an amazing hot pot in some place just on the street (wish I could remember the name).

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Bangkok had so much variety food wise that I was completely blown away. I remember we had a wander on the Khao San Road, explored the options there and then caught a tuk tuk (my first ever) to Chinatown where I was surprised with even more choice and pretty amazing cooking skills.

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I loved Bangkok, I thought it was a great city with a well developed infrastructure, beautiful temples, plenty of choice for food and party. It was lively and fun, but I was ready to leave it and head up north.

Next stop – Ayutthaya!