Koh Phi Phi
Here are some thoughts and experiences of an island in East Thailand called Koh Phi Phi.
From Bangkok, it is an overnight bus ride far to the south and then a long boat ride to the small island of Koh Phi Phi. You arrive by boat to alight at the end of the jetty to walk through the many Thais hawking for trade and looking for your guide with a sign for your place to stay.
There are no motor vehicles allowed on the island, except one small police bike that stands by itself outside the police station which is a tiny room in the street.
It is a small island and can be walked from end to end in no time at all.
You can watch the sun rise on one side and see it set on the other side. There are many boats coming and going every day taking pleasure seekers off to dive or snorkel amongst the colourful fish.
Maya Bay is one of the most popular places to get to by boat that will drop you close to the beach where you will have to jump out into the water and wade to shore then either stay and swim or go off exploring. Four or five hours are enough to see everything, and then it is back on board to get back in time for dinner.
Open air restaurants line the beach where you can choose from the different meals with fish being the most available on the menu along with the many fruits like mango, papaya, pineapple, and watermelon to name a few. It is good to be able to eat without any engine noises, just the sound of the waves on the sand.
The boats are colourful and are moored along the beach in long lines. These are long boats to be hired for private trips to get to the many attractions that only the boat drivers know how to find.
Night time and most will party on the beach and then much later retire to the many drinking places to talk, drink and dance the night away until the early hours and sometimes all night.
The town is always busy selling food and trinkets to the tourists and there’s something to do at all times of the day, or just do nothing on one of the beaches if you can stand the heat.
There are diving schools there that look the business and go out every day to dive.
You can have your coconut dreams here or just get lost for a week in the tropical-ness of it all and expand once a day into the warm sea.
Some tourists spend their whole vacation on the island, while others find it a bit same, same after a week.
It is one of the better islands of the many scattered around Thailand and surprisingly you can even get a decent cup of coffee here and there.
The cheaper accommodation is in the town while the chalets and rooms for the well off are a good walk to the other side of the island, and a lot quieter.
If you had to choose one island, this one could be it.
Here is my experience of a little island south of Bangkok just off the coast that you get to by boat.
Koh Samed is one of the smaller islands in Thailand with one very bumpy and muddy road, but then I did go there in the rainy season of 2011 when the floods hit Bangkok.
I came in on a speedboat that dropped me off on the beach just near to my chalet that I had rented for a week. I had to jump off the boat into the sea and wade to shore with all my heavy stuff: suitcase, smaller bag, and lap top; but what a thrill, what an awesome ride.
I was lucky to be there when there were not that many tourists and so was able to explore without tripping over people.
I spent most of my time on the beach, sand sifting and taking photos. In the evenings I walked along the beach to one of the restaurants on the sand and had a different meal each night.
And as the sun went down, acrobats danced by the shore until it got dark when they would juggle fire sticks high up into the air; spectacular, so I took a video of it all with my new recorder, that in a few weeks, on a bus to Koh Samui would go missing from my locked suitcase in the hold of the bus. I really liked that video recorder. It cost 50,000 baht. That taught me a valuable lesson: always carry your valuables with you, or lock them in a safe.
I hired a motor bike one day and rode to the ends of the island. On one side it was all trees and the muddy bumpy road and so I soon tired of that. On the other side I found many things of interest like little beaches to explore, boats to photo and houses that would be so good to live in.
I took the motorbike back at the end of the day, there’s only one road and you can see the entire island from it in less than a day’s ride.
The main street is not very long and you can soon walk to the end of it.
There’s an interesting arcade you have to walk through to get to the beach with lots of shops selling colourful things that make you want to buy them.
In the times when the sun came out from behind the clouds it became very hot so I would take to the shade in one of the many beach cafes and drink orange juice.
Koh Samed is a cosy island, and friendly with its houses set amongst the trees, and so many unexpected things to discover.
Breakfast on the beach every morning was great and I soon picked up some friends: a dog, a cat and two birds came for a feed.
It is a laid back island where the locals did a lot of sleeping during the heat of the day in any place they could find to lie down. It was a relatively quiet place too; a far remove from some islands where everybody gets drunk and raves.
Koh Samed is a place to chill, to lay back and let the world go by, far, far away from you.
Chiang Mai, North Thailand
This part of the article is about the walled city of Chiang Mai in northern Thailand.
The walled city.
Arriving at 7 am in the morning after travelling all night for 13 hours on the cheap bus from Bangkok that kept breaking down with bad springs will leave you tired and easy prey for the tuk-tuk drivers, but Chiang Mai is not that big and you can walk to the place you’re staying.
There are many hostels and most of them will have rooms depending on the time of year, and they don’t put their prices up if you haven’t booked one beforehand.
There are certain festivals like Songkran, April 13th to 15th which is the Thai New Year where for three days everywhere is fully booked because all of Thailand is throwing water over everyone that is outdoors.
From early November through to February is the coolest time of the year so this is when the tourists come and you need to book your room before you come.
With a map and a hired motorbike you can get out all day visiting the attractions such as the temples within walking distance, or you can take one of the many tours.
The elephant tour is a good one, just be sure to go to the one that is not cruel to them; ask, so you can stay away from the bad ones.
The airport is close and for the price of a cup of tea you can get a bus to take you to the centre. Taxis are metered but not always honest. Tuk-tuks are somewhere in between the two.
You will come across cockroaches but they don’t bite. They are driven by instinct, so if you’re with one in a bathroom and there’s no dark corners for it to hide it may come at you as if to attack, but really all it’s doing is running to the darkest place to hide; and they run up a toilet bowl with ease. They look scary but they won’t harm you.
There’s two parts to Chiang Mai: the old city is a mile square and it’s easy to walk around or cycle. There are not so many cars in the old city and life is more relaxed with lovely quiet garden coffee places to find.
Although it’s not as hot as the south, mostly, with the mornings cool at times to see Thais in coats, it does get hot, so when walking drink water, and stop in the shade somewhere to cool down. Or hire a tuk-tuk for a few hours and get taken straight to the places of best interest.
Outside the walled city it is like any other place in Thailand with noise and bustle with more temples than you can visit.
Chiang Mai is the 5th largest city in Thailand with around a million people with enough things to keep you occupied for a very long time, such as hill walks, elephant tours, markets, Muay Thai boxing, cinemas, museums, rafting, rainforest visits and swimming.
It really is a nice place to visit and even to rent a house and live with the borders of Myanmar and Lao close by to renew your visa.
The hotels are good; you can get a nice one with a swimming pool for the price of a Sunday dinner, or for those on a budget you can rent a bed in a hostel for the price of a beer and a packet of crisps.
Meals are not an arm and a leg either, for the price of a bottle of milk you can get fried rice with veg and chicken and a real fruit juice.
For $20 a day you can live a budget lifestyle and get by nicely and after you get to know your way around you can halve that.
At times, it is easy to find yourself feeling so good about where you are you may catch yourself wishing you could stay and live in Chiang Mai, and all in all it is one of the nicer places to be.
Ah, I see you’re awake; can I interest you in another grain of reality? I see by your huge eyes that I can; well then: wet rain is falling and smoke from the joss sticks is spreading about in the slight breeze; mothers are mothering their children as the shop doors open for business that’s slow with the off season and coffee is brewing.
Thoughts are slow and still a bit sleepy but the early morning rituals are performed without flaw. A Frenchman busily soaked in the rain stops to talk and then troops on to his breakfast.
Chiang Mai in the rainy season is cool when it rains and too hot when it doesn’t, normal for the natives, exotic for the tourists and same-same for the foreigners that live here.
Cheap as chips say the Westerners that come to here with their retirement visas and world views they discuss in the cafes over a coffee or a Chang beer or two, and some with their Thai wives happy to be taken care of. And after breakfast they troop off to their businesses or apartments or rooms to get by until the next social meal.
The tourists come through in their droves, their big white bodies packed into pick-ups that take them away for the day to see the elephants and tigers, to trek the trail and zip down the line and then back again for dinner and the long night of cheap beer and clubs of heaving flesh and thundering music.
Chiang Mai has something for everyone where the east meets the west and is perfectly happy to accommodate the every need.
Family life is big and children are the star attraction and draw a crowd wherever they go and are safer here than anywhere else for no child is left alone in Thailand, always a guardian is close by to watch over them.
When the sun shines it’s hot and strong and so best to be under an umbrella if the skin is susceptible to burning easily, but even then the radiation is enough to give a tan.
Early morning finds the western runners out to keep fit and as the sun goes down the Thais come out to the parks and outdoor areas to play football and do aerobics and then early to bed to get up next day when the cock crows.
In the heat of the day, cats sleep in the shade and Buddha like dogs hide under tables to wait for the cooler time of the evening to come out and find food or roam in packs on the railway tracks where the old packed trains trundle past slowly, in no hurry to get anywhere.
On Sundays, Walking Street is packed with everyone out for food and a stroll through the market to buy a T shirt or a bangle or sitting to eat a Pad Thai and meeting up with friends.
The dry season either side of December is when the most tourists come to Chiang Mai, it’s cool then and the festival of lanterns is the highlight when all the guest houses and hotels are full.
Many thousands of paper lanterns are lit and drift upwards slowly to cover the sky in floating lights. You hardly ever see one flame-up and burn even when fireworks are attached, but when the fuel runs out then down they come; and then next morning is the big clean up.
North of Chiang Mai is Pai and is a sleepy little village that was once associated with hippies in some way but is now a popular attraction for younger tourists to party.
After spending a week, there I can say there’s not much to do after you’ve seen everything on the first day, and then you have to go outside of the village where there’s just enough to do and see for about five days.
Chiang Rai is the other main tourist place to go to but most find it an unremarkable place, used mostly as a stop-off on the way to or from the Laos border.
For the ex-pats and others that need to update their visas, there’s the visa run to Mae Sai on the Burma, Thailand border that takes four hours in a minibus and stops in the town for a quick walk across the border bridge over the river into Burma or Myanmar as they call it now and then back through customs and then the four hours back to Chiang Mai for the evening meal.
It seems that they’re giving a two-week visa now at the border to visit the East of Burma. But for those wanting a longer time, then going online to get an online visa and then flying from Chiang Mai to Mandalay is the best way to visit Burma.
The inner walled old city of Chiang Mai that is a square mile surrounded by a moat is the place to be and is where most of the guest houses and hotels are located.