It’s taken me a couple of months to write about my trip to Thailand because I needed some time to process my experience.
Eight days in Thailand, solo and with a friend, was everything this Canadian girl imagined a tropical paradise could look like.
Thailand is an oasis for foreigners around the world – a truly incredible vacation destination.
But – when you’re traveling, not vacationing, it’s quite clear that behind the beautiful blue waters and white sands, there is a lot of injustice and corruption. I wrote about human slavery in the Thai fishing industry here, which is not mutually exclusive to Thailand’s sex industry, and tourism is doing nothing to help.
– Koh Phi Phi
– Koh Lanta
– Koh Samui
Modes of transportation used within Thailand:
– swallowtail boat
– public minibus
– Bangkok canal boat
– intercity airplane
Playlist listened to the entire trip/on the back of a scooter through my phone speakers
After hopping off a plane from an unbeatable solo travel experience in Vietnam, I arrived to 32˚C weather at Phuket International Airport. I bought an extremely cheap SIM card for 10 days, and headed off to find the cheapest mode of transportation to the ferry terminal. I failed, got too hot and hangry, and paid for a taxi with a kind driver.
My initial observations of Thailand as a country, included having a very large Muslim population, and the death of the King had everything publicly decorated in black and white.
Koh Phi Phi (pronounced pee-pee)
I wandered onto the ferry to Koh Phi Phi, which they said was leaving immediately, in order to make me buy a ticket without thinking. It was all young foreigners, with varying tans – from pale to lobster red. I sat at the bottom, and hah, boy was that a mistake. The ferry rocked back and forth forever and I felt so ill. I stumbled onto the dock a couple of hours later and watched the hungover young people waiting in line to get on.
Phi Phi Island is a party island, as I’m sure you know. It’s also very small and car-less, so I wandered on foot and checked out all the touristy things I could buy later. I had no hostel booked, and I had decided that I did feel like sleeping that night, so I avoided the party hostels and found a quiet one for a little more money. I shared an over-airconditioned room with a German boy that was nursing a third degree sunburn on his foot, and an American corpse? that partied a little too hard the night before.
Unfortunately, there were flash thunderstorms and flooding the entire time I was in Thailand. My first day was no exception. I had never seen a tropical rainstorms before, they are really flippin dramatic. I ate my first real pad thai and watched people take showers outside.
I don’t advise people to visit Koh Phi Phi unless they plan to do some partying. There are some really good parties too… I didn’t feel like anything good could come of drinking with people I didn’t know and my hostel was quiet, so I decided to hike after the storm finished. Best decision ever.
I stumbled upon my first tropical flower (of which I still haven’t Googled the name) and saw my first wild monkeys!
The hike was steep but so worth it.
After the hike I ate some green curry and booked a sunrise tour to Maya Bay the next morning. The poster said I would beat the crowds, and I was specifically hoping to miss the turnt up crowds from the night before.
Luckily my boat showed up as one of the first so I could make it look like we were alone.
It was probably one of the prettiest things I’ve ever seen.
There was a fee for visiting Maya Bay because it’s in a National Park. The Australian girls I met bantered with me about how the money that goes to Thailand’s parks never actually used to restore and protect anything. I’m hoping it’s not true.
After Maya Bay the tour continued to another bay where we could go swimming. The colour of the water was actually that blue. Everyone got out of the water because they kept getting zapped by something they couldn’t see. We claimed it was jellyfish, but who knows.
Next was Monkey Beach – which I hated. It explicitly says not to feed the monkeys, and then everyone feeds the monkeys. One little girl got bitten and it was comical and terrifying. That’s what happens when you take a selfie stick to a monkey.
But then we snorkeled! I’ve never snorkeled in tropical water before. I saw parrot fish angel fish and blue fish and black fish and coral and it was so cool.
The fish were obnoxious and wouldn’t get out of our way and I was in such a happy place!
We finished the tour, tipped the Thai boat driver and I wandered back to get a smoothie and hop on a ferry to meet FATIMA ON KOH LANTA!!!!!!
Fatima picked me up at the ferry terminal and I was so excited to see her face that when some people grabbed my arms to try and get the island fee from me, I mistook them for trying to aggressively sell me something and violently threw them off me and kept walking… no one came after me.
When I realized there was a fee later I felt so bad…
Anyway, besties were united and we made our way on her rented scooter to the hostel. Then we drove around the island, past the rubber tree plantations, and she taught me how to drive the scooter.
We past some stressed looking chained up elephants and vowed that we wouldn’t ride any while we were in Thailand. I’m grateful we didn’t.
Koh Lanta was our favourite place in Thailand.
It was so quiet and there was nothing to do but relax. We barely saw any foreigners and had the beaches to ourselves. The bars we went to played reggae and chill music, to which we sipped tropical drinks and hung in hammocks.
We ate the most incredible breakfast, the freshest green curry in a couple different restaurants. The weather was rainy and moody, but we still relaxed on the beach. This little girl and her brothers played soccer with some French tourists and then decided to carry sand in her dress. Clearly the best idea ever.
We went to find a waterfall, but chose the wrong time of day to do so. We stopped for a pretty beach on the way.
The forest was big and lush and the trail wasn’t clear. It was incredible.. but kinda freaky. We turned around and found grub.
After 2 days? 3 days? We returned the scooter and got in a bus across the entire (skinny) country to Koh Samui- an island on the East side, in the Gulf of Thailand.
This island is fun if you have money and you’re on vacation. Tima and I were backpackers, and we did not fit in at all. After a really long bus ride with some unlikeable people, we hopped on a ferry to the island. We grabbed a scooter and quickly discovered… traffic… and noise… and other foreigners. It took us an hour to get to the side of the island with hostels. It’s quite a big island, and it’s full of resorts and retreat centers. The only other people our age were on vacation with their parents.
We bought overpriced bevvies in this beautiful beach bar, and of course it started raining.
Our hostel, Casa Luna Hostel, was really really good. The owners are a British couple, and they’ve made it a really hip and fun place to stay. The beds came with fans and the breakfast was great.
The next day we walked to Big Buddha at a famous temple nearby.
Can confirm, it was big.
I felt a migraine coming on, but somehow stopped it in its tracks with sunglasses, and a crap ton of electrolytes. Go me!
Fatima was planning on bungee jumping. I have never in my life wanted to bungee jump. Skydiving was good enough for me.
I will never be doing that again. I recommend you do some neck stretches before jumping off a 700m high crane..
After drinking our free beer and waiting for the blood in my eyes to reduce so I could see properly, we decided to go chasing waterfalls.
The water was muddy and a flowin’.
On the way home, I was driving the scooter with Fatima on the back when we hit a torrential downpour. Let’s just say that rainstorm is something we talk more about than the bungee jumping. It hit when we were going up hill on a blind corner, in the dark, and on a highway. We quickly pulled over and couldn’t believe we were alive. We couldn’t stop laughing at our (mis)fortune, but that was one of the most dangerous experiences I’ve ever lived through. We shivered the entire way home, in our soaking shorts and tanks on the Koh Samui highway and couldn’t wait to shower and warm up.
Tima wanted to go skydiving in another city, so we needed to fly to Bangkok the next day.
Bangkok was the dirtiest city I have ever been to, in every way: air, waterways, sidewalks, tourist district etc. It was 36 degrees everyday and there was nothing but concrete jungle.
After being on Koh Lanta, abundant with ocean breezes in silent paradise, we ached to leave the country’s capital.
We met up with Dee, another teacher in Korea that was on holiday in Thailand. We stayed with her in her Airbnb apartment for a night, and then stayed in Cubic Hostel, which had great hangout space, breakfast, staff and guests but the location wasn’t ideal.
One night we hung out with other guests, and we ended up being a small group from Mexico, Russia, China, and Canada. It was amazing.
The waterways making their way through the city made me want to cry. They were grey and smelled absolutely terrible. We took a boat as part of the transit system on one of the canals, and we were so scared to get splashed. The entire time we expected to see the giant monitor lizards that hang out in the canals. Unfortunately (fortunately?) we didn’t.
We did the touristy things, Tuk Tuks, Khaosan Rd, Bucket of drinks, saw the dried bugs and scorpions you could eat, declined offers to see ping pong shows, drank milk tea for days, haggled for souvenirs, got a pedicure, got tattoos and piercings.
You know… all the Thailand things.
We met our Brasilian friend Marcos at an amazing festival in the city’s equivalent of Central Park, Lumpini Park. There we tasted all kinds of food and saw cultural dances and cultural activities. At this point we were running out of money, so we were looking for cheap things to do and see, and were quickly met with few options.
So we jumped on a day tour out of the city to Kanchanaburi Province! The tour was to see a famous bridge, cemetery, river and a waterfall and then take a train, but sadly we were already too spoiled and it was super underwhelming.
The cemetery was actually really interesting. I had no idea that Japan colonized Thailand during WWII, and that they forced prisoners of war to build a railway across Thailand in order to attack British Burma, now Myanmar. We saw the graves of Canadians and other Commonwealth countries. Look I learned something!
Once we finished lunch on a river boat and our group split up, we went to the famous waterfall, which was dried up. Thai families were picnicking there, and the kids were splashing around in the water and staring at us foreigners.
As we waited for our meetup time in the midday heat, I played peekaboo with a little Thai girl waiting for her train to leave. At one point she busted out binoculars to watch me and we kept playing a game of cat and mouse, me with my camera, her with her binoculars.
The train was the best part! It was rickety and old, but we had it all to ourselves, and the scenery was beautiful.
The thing I loved about Thailand was that your safety was your own choice. You could climb all over the boats with no life jackets, and you could stick your whole body out the train window. Nobody would tell you not to.
If you fell in, or got hit by a tree branch, you’re just an idiot.
We zoomed past tapioca plantations and bamboo forests along a clean looking river.
Unfortunately at the river boat, I discovered that when I flushed, it went straight into the river as raw sewage…
What was cool, probably to only me, is that in Korea, Japan, Vietnam and Thailand, every country has a different species of bamboo. They all grow differently and look different.
In the van on the way back to Bangkok, we were stuck in traffic for 3 hours later than planned…
Lucky for us, I recognized a couple men in our Van as Koreans and struck up conversation (in English). Mincheul and his friend were incredible company, and we chatted and shared snacks on the way home. Mincheul and I had the same flight to Hanoi (where he lives now), so we shared a taxi together and he treated me so kindly (좋은 오빠예요 ^^). I’m happy to stay we still keep in touch, and Fatima met up with him in Hanoi during her visit there.
For a place with incredible natural beauty that draws millions of people every year, I was devastated by the state of Thailand’s physical environment. Thailand is just not economically stable enough to provide environmental regulations. That, or maybe it doesn’t have the motivation or budget to police the regulations in place. Perhaps there are far bigger human rights issues within Thai society that are also not being addressed, but it still seemed paradoxical to me.
My experience in Thailand was beautiful. I wish I had time to visit Chiang Mai, learn to dive on Koh Pha Ngan and visit more national parks.
I ate watermelon, mango or pineapple every single day, experienced a thai massage and learned the art of haggling. I can now confidently drive a scooter in all weather conditions with a person on the back. I had an absolute blast!
However, I couldn’t help feeling uneasy and insecure the entire time I was there. I could never fully relax because I was hyper aware that the enjoyment of tourists came at a cost for the local people in every place we went. Supporting Thailand means supporting a country that thrives off of human trafficking. Fortunately, there are efforts being made to help put an end to sex tourism, but in the meantime there’s a lot that needs to change from the top down.
If you have any thoughts, comments or experiences to add, please leave a comment below.
Next stop: Indonesia!