Beaches, Food, and Fun in an Immensely Easy Travel Destination
Elliott spent a couple of weeks traveling the north of Thailand before Lisa arrived and had an amazing experience. The character of the country in the north is significantly different than in the south, and both deserve an equal amount of time. On this page we focus on the south, including:
- Big, busy Bangkok (it’s tasty too!)
- The snorkeling paradise of Koh Tao
- Ths island of Koh Pag Ngan
- Khao Sok National Park and the floating bungalows
- A brief visit to Krabi
All told we spent a little under three weeks in Southern Thailand. That was not nearly enough, not even for scratching the surface of the south of the country. We often talk about going back, even just for the delicious food… and hopefully one day we will!
Normally we’re not super stoked on cities, but Bangkok was something else. Magnificent temples, big loud river boats, crazy traffic, high tech mixed with oldschool, it was truly something to behold. Despite all the hustle and bustle it can still make for divine travel experiences- we’ll never forget making our way through twisting alleys and streets looking for breakfast while being greeted by the pleasant and relaxing wafting of incense burning at mini shrines.
Elliott had already been in Southeast Asia for a month before Lisa arrived in Bangkok in July of 2013. Knowing Lisa would be landing on a particular day, he made his way as fast as possible from Siem Reap, Cambodia to meet Lisa at the Siam Journey hostel (great hostel and super easy to get to from the airport!) in Bangkok after she first arrived.
He found himself stuck in standstill traffic and lamented any delay in reuniting with Lisa, when he had an idea… the canal boats! There ain’t no traffic on the canals, and for just a few cents and a bit of walking he finally made it back to Siam Journey to reunite with Lisa with plenty of time to spare.
After reuniting, first things first- food. The food, my god, the food. Bangkok was the beginning of a new culinary horizon for us, an explosion of tastes we didn’t even know existed. If you’ve ever been to a Thai restaurant outside of Thailand, even a good one, it can offer a maximum of half of the awesomeness that you get in Thailand. The first time Elliott had street food in a back alley near the Ratchathewi train stop it blew his mind and left him forever searching for that amazing taste again (turns out it was a Panang curry).
If you manage to pull yourself away from the unbelievable food and spend your time doing something other than eating, there are plenty of other attractions in Bangkok. Many travelers simply use Bangkok as a transit point to access other destinations, but if you spend a few days there and give it a chance, it’s really not a bad place.
How to get cheap travel vaccinations
When traveling abroad it’s important to make sure all of your vaccinations are up to date, and also to get some additional ones to protect you from freaky nightmare diseases you might not have in your home country. Unfortunately, getting those vaccinations in your home country can often be very expensive.
If you’re willing to risk a brief period of time being unprotected, consider getting your vaccinations in your destination country for way less money! While this might not be a feasible option in every country, it certainly was in Bangkok.
Elliott headed to the Queen Saovabha Memorial Institute in Bangkok and got all of his needed vaccinations for a fraction of what he would have paid at a western doctor. The staff spoke enough English, were very helpful, and the entire process was incredibly easy.
Keep in mind, however, that some vaccinations require multiple shots and you might need to start a couple of months before you leave. Do your research on what you need before you leave- the Government of Canada Travel Advisories are usually quite helpful. If necessary, visit a doctor before you leave for initial shots and advice on getting additional shots abroad.
Elliott had already checked out some of the north of Thailand around Chang Mai (highly recommended!), so he and Lisa planned to check out the south together. The first stop was
the island of Koh Tao, but first we had to get there. All aboard the 1967 Hitachi sleeper train for an overnight train-bus-ferry journey!
Just like basically every tourist journey in Thailand, getting to Koh Tao was immensely easy. We bought a ticket from the Bangkok train station and got on our sleeper train. The bunks weren’t exactly intended for humans of our monstrous size, but we managed to have a comfy sleep before arriving at the next stop of Chumphon, getting off the train and wandering to a waiting bus, and then getting off this bus and being ferried onto a ferry that then took us on to Koh Tao. This was probably one of our most expensive journeys in Thailand, but still came in easily under $20 CAD.
Travel is a privilege
If you’re out traveling or planning your next trip, don’t ever forget that traveling is truly a privilege that is not enjoyed by everybody. As we were waiting for the train to go on our amazing beach holiday, there was a less fortunate man in the Bangkok train station. On a nearby block of benches, the man was lying unconscious with the seat of his shorts covered in blood and flies swarming around him. It was a humbling moment that made us focus on just how immensely lucky we are for being able to enjoy the time of our lives in Thailand while others in this big, wide, world of ours face much more difficult lives.
Once we finally arrived at Koh Tao, the beauty of what awaited us was absolutely stunning.
The first thing to do in a place like this is to hit the beach, obviously. Elliott was particularly excited to change into his ultra-stylish beach outfit.
And what could be better than swimming in a tropical paradise like this? Well, snorkeling in a tropical paradise, of course! We each bought ourselves our own mask and snorkel (mini diving fins are recommended too!), rented a scooter, and tooted around the island checking out all of the different beaches as a mobile snorkeling unit.
The snorkeling at Koh Tao was indescribably gorgeous. We were constantly sorrounded by fish of all sizes and types, beautiful coral everywhere, and colourful creatures that we didn’t know existed. Pictures don’t do it justice (but it’s a start). You have to see it to believe it.
And what’s better than snorkeling? Scuba diving, of course! Elliott decided to finish up the scuba lessons he had started in Turkey with Sunshine Divers in Koh Tao. Sunshine Divers were phenomenal and allowed him to easily continue where he left off with the last dive school and are highly recommended. Unfortunately he didn’t have his camera along, but he swam with several sea turtles and almost saw a whale shark!
Koh Pag Ngan
The next stop in our southern Thailand beach hopping was the island of Koh Pag Ngan, another beautiful tropical paradise island full of sunny beaches, blue water, green jungle, and even the odd elephant or two.
We once again rented a scooter and spent most of our time snorkeling. But we also went in search of waterfalls, especially as Lisa hadn’t seen any during her time in Thailand yet. Our first find was not particularly inspiring… But we did manage to find a couple of other waterfalls that were a bit more impressive.
Rent a scooter- but be careful!
In many of our travels the absolute best way to explore a place is by renting a scooter. Nowhere was this more true than on the Thai islands, where the majority of our time was spent scootering around on rough roads from place to place. While we highly recommend renting a scooter, even if it may be your first time on something with two wheels (take it slow, really slow), there are some inherent risks involved and a few things you should keep in mind:
- NEVER ride on a scooter if you or the driver have been drinking, even if you’re a passenger. While this may seem obvious, you would be surprised at the number of young tourists walking around with serious bandages on their legs and other limbs. It’s just not worth the risk, and a tuk-tuk taxi back to your guest house will hardly cost $1.
- Wear protective gear. A helmet is obviously the absolute minimum. Elliott also brought along jeans, hiking boots, and leather gloves. He was probably one of the only idiots wearing jeans on a scooter (he also sometimes rented bigger motorcycles and wanted extra protection), but he figured being a little warmer was a small price to pay for keeping his skin intact in the case of an accident.
- Watch that exhaust! Ever hear of the “Thailand tattoo?” It’s best that you don’t discover what that means firsthand. Never forget that the exhaust pipe on a motorcycle is beside your leg, very hot, and definitely not your friend.
- Choose who to rent from, and don’t feel pressured if they’re giving you sketchy vibes. There are often tons of people renting out scooters, from the grandma down the street to the big tourist rental joints. It seems to be the norm for them to ask for your passport while you have their bike- we’ve always gotten ours back.
- Take lots of pictures, and let the owner see that you’re taking pictures. If they try to tell you that you damaged the scooter and have to pay, then you have proof that it was that way when you got it.
- Buy a lock and chain. We’ve heard stories of scooter owners coming around at night with a second set of keys and “stealing” their own bikes, only to force the tourist to pay replacement costs. Stop by a hardware store to pick up a lock and chain for a couple of dollars. It’s probably unlikely that somebody will try to swindle you, but if they do it’s not likely they have bolt cutters on hand, and even the added sense of security is worth a couple of bucks.
While in Koh Pag Ngan we also caught up on our laundry. Considering that in Thailand we northern-dwellers were basically sweating 24/7, and considering that we each only had a few pieces of clothing in our backpacks, laundry is a must from time to time. You can always pay a local a nominal fee to do your laundry for you… but did we mention we like to travel cheap? Who needs to pay somebody when you can just wash your clothes yourself in your guest house bathroom!
Khao Sok National Park
From Koh Pag Ngan we hopped on another ferry, bypassed the higher-class and tourist-ridden Koh Samui island, and headed inland for Khao Sok National Park. We hopped on a bus at the ferry terminal and headed off into the jungle as the sun went down. We had pre-booked a little jungle bungalow and the driver of the bus knew the place, so he took us straight there to our own quiet little jungle paradise.
The sounds of the jungle soothed us to sleep, fresh fruit trees were just outside of our door, and the attached bathroom had no roof! When we woke up we also discovered a squished scorpion in front of our bathroom door… did one of us step on it when going to the bathroom in the night? Yikes!
A typical busjourney in Southeast Asia
Did we mention getting around in Thailand is easy? That’s the case with almost all of Southeast Asia.
Simply find a guy on the street or in a building selling bus tickets. Pay him $10 or whatever he’s asking for. He’ll give you a little piece of paper and tell you when and where to be the next day. Show up, give a bus guy your ticket, and he’ll give you a little coloured sticker depending on your destination. Get in the bus, fall asleep on the bus, and get out of the bus when the driver tells you. He may leave you standing on a street corner with no explanation and simply drive off. But don’t worry! Sooner or later another bus will pull up and ask for all the yellow stickers, blue stickers, red stickers, etc. Get in that bus, etc. etc., and eventually you’ll always make it to your destination without fail!
We arranged with our bungalow owner to be taken out into Khao Sok National Park for a few nights for the typical tourist experience in the “floating bungalows” operated there. We were picked up by boat in the morning and were treated to the magnificent sights of the giant inland lake.
The floating bungalows were indeed floating, and also sinkable! When we were having lunch in the floating restaurant portion, another group of tourists got off their boat and onto the restaurant, which then began to make its way to the bottom of lake before everybody rushed off. The floating bungalows were an interesting place to spend a couple of nights, and you can’t beat being able to dive into a lake directly from your front door.
We were taken on a couple of “safaris” by boat, but didn’t see a single animal. There were, however, a couple of kayaks available to paddle around with, and one morning the two of us went out into a couple of nearby sheltered bays. As we paddled across the still morning water, we heard sounds in the treetops towering above us and caught glimpses of howler monkeys who then started to raise the alarm at our presence.
We also were taken on a trek by foot which was supposed to culminate in wading through a water-filled cave, but the guide decided that the potential for rain posed too big a risk and didn’t want to have a bunch of drowned tourists on his hands. He got us out alive, and we were sad to leave the absolutely beautiful Koh Sok National Park.
We didn’t spend a ton of time in Krabi, but many people use this as one of their home bases for exploring beaches and climbing in the area. Our activities mainly included eating interesting food, checking out the town at a night market, and renting a scooter to visit different caves and beaches. We’ll have to give Krabi a bit more time the next time we find ourselves in this part of the world.
After going through Malaysia and Singapore we flew back to Bangkok and had a few days left until Elliott had to fly back to Canada and part from Lisa for an indefinite amount of time. We decided to head to the nearby city of Ayutthaya for a couple of days of mellow couple-time before our somber goodbye.
There are magnificent ruins abound in Ayutthaya, many of them overgrown with massive tree roots twisting their way among ancient statues. We spent the majority of our time wandering these ruins, having our last taste of Thai food, and getting ready to say goodbye.
When the time finally came, it was in Ayutthaya train station. Elliott’s train was due to arrive any minute and we were both understandably a little (or a lot) sad. Lisa, tears streaming down her face, undid a small bracelet with tiny copper bells she had picked up somewhere along the way and gave it to Elliott. The train pulled up, we kissed and said goodbye, and Lisa turned to leave lest she be overcome with sadness. The train slowly pulled away while Elliott sat with the tiny bracelet in hand and a heavy heart. We knew we would see each other again; it was just a matter of when and where.
Elliott now wears that same bracelet tied to the zipper of a jacket to this day, a constant reminder of our time in Thailand and the bond we formed while traveling together. And we are in fact still just as in love as we were then, and even together in the same place as much as we possibly can be!