South Thailand: Scuba Diving, Songkran & Full Moon Parties

It felt strange to be back in the hot streets of Bangkok where we’d began our journey. Although this time around, I arrived feeling at ease and like a more experienced traveller than I once before. It felt odd to be the one dishing out tips to tourists who had just arrived at our hostel, rather than being the one receiving them!

But we were only back for the night, and we soon met up with our friends Stacey and Joel again to book a bus to Krabi. I was excited to move away from the cities and enjoy some time with the sea and sand.

Ton Sai & Railay Beach

Instead of exploring Krabi Town, we hopped on a tiny motorboat to Ton Sai Beach where we’d booked two bungalows on stilts to stay in. It truly felt like we’d finally arrived on a remote island as we carried our huge rucksacks over our heads and waded our way through the sea.

While a lot of people choose to stay at Railay Beach, (which is about a 20 minute walk from Ton Sai), we opted to go for the latter, as it’s cheaper and less busy. The island is so small that there are just a few places to eat and stay, and all the electricity gets turned off at about 10pm. But that just makes it the perfect place to relax, and it was nice to enjoy a few days completely disconnected.

While Ton Sai has some great rock climbing opportunities, there isn’t a great deal more to do, as you can imagine for most islands! So we enjoyed a nice hike to a viewpoint before cooling off in the beautiful sea. You can tell that Ton Sai is a haven for travellers, and we almost felt like we were back in Pai when we spotted the hammock-clad bars adorned with psychedelic mushrooms on the walls.

On our last day we took a walk over to Railay Beach, which is great for snorkeling around the rock pools when the tide is out. Drinks are pretty pricey there though, as we’d expected!

While everyone raves about Railay Beach, I think my personal favourite has to be Phra Nang Beach, as it’s a bit less busy, yet the sea is beautiful and there are awesome rocks overhanging the sea.

Phra Nang Beach is also home to a very unusual Penis Cave – yep, you heard me – a cave full entirely of wooden penises. Apparently this is because, “It is believed by the villagers that the spirit of Phranang (Princess Goddess) resides in the cave. Fishermen, before going out, would pledge Phranang for good luck. With their wishes fulfilled, votive offerings would be made at the shrine. Common gifts are flowers and incense sticks, but usually, the spirits of goddess shall be offered special gifts, the lingams.” 

If you fancy a challenging hike, there’s a fantastic hidden blue lagoon right by Phra Nang and Railay Beach. Completely secluded by rocks and accessible only by a steep hike, the natural lagoon is simply breathtaking. Although we made it back covered in mud, it was certainly a highlight for me.

Phi Phi

If there was one island I’d heard about the most in Thailand it was Phi Phi. Although I’d heard wonderful things about it, we’d also heard about how expensive the island is (including the ‘clean up’ entry fee you have to pay to even step on the island!)

As soon as we stepped off the boat, we were hounded by salesmen trying to sell us accommodation. We spent a good hour asking around the hostels to find the best price, before settling on the cheapest one we could find – which despite being the most expensive bed we’d paid for yet on the trip, didn’t even supply bedding.

However we didn’t let that stop us – as we had cause to celebrate! It was Stacey’s birthday that night, and so we soon headed to the beach to start drinking before carrying on into the night. And there’s no doubt that the nightlife in Phi Phi is fantastic – there are so many drink deals, which certainly made up for the accommodation.

Like many people I know, I was set on going to Phi Phi so I could visit the infamous Maya Bay, which was featured in Danny Boyle’s The Beach. However after some research, we found out that the location has sadly been spoiled by tourism, with tons of boats cramming their way into the bays and tourists having to fork out extortionate prices just to go there for a few hours. So we decided to give it a miss, as we’d already seen our fair share of dazzling beaches.

Koh Lanta

On the boat to Koh Lanta we were approached by a couple of men selling accommodation. We realised that this is something we’d probably have to get used to now that we were visiting all the touristy Thai islands, so we agreed what we thought was a good deal for a 4 person flat with one of the salesman. Although Joel was a bit suspicious over the good price, we couldn’t think of a reason why anything would go wrong.

The room had air con and a TV, and as we’d been hit with torrential rain the last couple of days, we enjoyed a cosy night in watching films. The next day, we made the most of what looked like a sunny day and rented some motorbikes from the hotel next door to head out for the day. We enjoyed a short trek to a waterfall before stopping off for a drink at a viewpoint overlooking one of the beaches.

However, it’s once we returned to the room where Edd soon discovered something was wrong. After both frantically searching our money belts, we found all of our Thai currency gone. Everything else of value in the room (like iPods, cameras etc.) were still there, it was just the money that was missing. As the whole flat was locked by key, we knew that it had to be the owners who were behind the robbery. After confronting them, it was clear that they were crooks and they’d already tipped off the police before we went there. We did some research and found that sadly it’s quite commonplace for tourists to get tricked into staying in these cheap rooms before getting robbed in Koh Lanta and some of the other Thai islands. As angry as we were about falling for the scam, we filed a police report anyway, packed up our stuff and got out of there as soon as we could. We booked a hostel at the other end of the island for the night, before making sure we booked another boat out of there the next day!

We knew that we couldn’t let something like this ruin our time in Koh Lanta, so before getting our boat we got a taxi to Koh Lanta Animal Welfare, a nonprofit charity for dogs and cats. The sanctuary aims to re-home the stray animals on the islands, and all the staff members and volunteers are fantastic at what they do. We got a guided tour round the sanctuary and got to play with the cats and dogs. Being massive animal lovers, this was the best way of cheering ourselves up!

From what I saw of Koh Lanta, I still definitely recommend visiting there. Just steer clear of anyone selling cheap accommodation on the boats and do your research beforehand.

Krabi Town

As we were leaving Koh Lanta a day or two early, we decided to head back to Krabi Town as we hadn’t actually explored the town properly before. On the weekends in Krabi, there’s a huge night market selling all sorts of food, drinks and souvenirs. So we enjoyed some beers and delicious veggie curry while watching some live music.

The best thing to visit in Krabi Town has to be Tiger Cave Temple (Wat Tham Suea). Located atop a whooping 1,237 steps, it’s no surprise that the view is utterly fantastic. And while the walk up there is exhausting in the heat, it’s completely worth it.

A friend of Joel and Stacey’s was staying just down the road in Ao Nang, so I joined them to go pay their friend a visit. While Krabi Town feels a lot more like a traditional Thai town, Ao Nang is a lot more expensive and touristy. But it’s the place to go if you want some nightlife! We enjoyed a few rounds of beer pong at their friend’s hostel before finishing with some drinks on the beach.

Koh Tao

Originally we planned to go to Koh Samui next, however we found a cheap overnight boat straight to Koh Tao, where me and Stacey planned to do our PADI Open Water Scuba Dive course. So we enjoyed a pleasantly nice boat ride being rocked to sleep by the waves before arriving bright and early in Koh Tao.

As soon as the dive schools opened, me and Stacey paid them a visit, before deciding on Crystal Dive, whose PADI course involves one day diving in the swimming pool and two days diving in the sea.Me and Stacey were both excited and terrified about scuba diving. Stacey had had one bad experience with it on holiday a few years ago and I had never tried it before, so I had no idea what to expect.

They say that you’ll never forget your first breath underwater, and it’s safe to say that’s true (although I don’t think my memory will be a good one!) My breaths instantly became shorter and quicker and I felt completely out of control. But as soon as I calmed down and took deeper breaths, I started to get used to the feeling.

One thing me and Stacey never got used to do however was taking off our masks underwater! It just made us feel so vulnerable but luckily our scuba diving instructors were so patient and reassuring that we managed to do it.

And it was all totally worth it! Words cannot describe your first experience scuba diving in the sea. I’ve snorkeled in some amazing locations before (including the Caribbean), and seen some amazing sea life, but it simply doesn’t compare to swimming alongside them. Although we didn’t see any turtles or whale sharks during our course, we did see some bluespotted stingrays and amazing fish.

Koh Phangan

Now we were fully qualified PADI divers, it was time to head to Koh Phangan for the infamous Full Moon Party! We stayed in an awesome hostel called West Side Story where we met fellow traveller Dan who joined us on a hike to a viewpoint before chilling at the beach.

We then headed out to the night market to buy some fluorescent Full Moon Party tops for the following night!

The Full Moon Party is like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. I’ve never seen so many people on one beach, and everywhere you look there are fire performers, water slides and cocktail buckets. Our friend Edd stayed out so long he ended up missing the boat to Phuket the next day! If you know what you’re going in for (expensive drinks, packed crowds and deafening music until the sun comes up), then you simply have to experience the Full Moon Party at least once!

Phuket

We decided to squeeze in a trip to Phuket for Songkran, (the Thai New Year festival). During Songkran, the locals take part in 3 day water fight to celebrate the new year and bring in good luck.

We headed to a local 7/11 to buy the biggest water guns we could find, and as soon as we ascended upon the streets we were attacked left, right and centre by excited locals with water guns and buckets of water.

Instead of spending Songkran in the touristy part of Phuket, we spent it in the local area and it was the best decision we could have made. Aside from a few other tourists, we got to spend so much time with the locals and they took extra delight in soaking us with freezing cold water and covering our faces with coloured paste for good luck. The atmosphere during Songkran is truly unique, and my cheeks genuinely hurt by the end of the festival from all the laughing!

Once Songkran was over, me Edd and Raquel explored the more touristy side of Phuket and visited the main town to buy some souvenirs. We also met Jori in our hostel who joined us for a relaxing evening on the beach and for some drinks in the evening. I felt sad knowing that this was the last time on my trip that I was going to see the sea!

Back to Bangkok

So after an amazing time exploring the Thai islands, it was time to head back to Bangkok for the third and final time. We had an extra two nights booked in Bangkok before flying home, so we stuffed our faces full of pad thai and bought some gifts to take home to our families.

And of course we couldn’t leave Bangkok without one last night out on Khao San Road, so we joined others dancing in the street before heading back for our final sleep before the flight.


Looking back at this trip as I’m writing the last post makes me feel so grateful that I got to experience so many extraordinary moments on the trip of a lifetime with my friends. From feeding elephants to spending the night in a jungle, to riding a motorbike through the beautiful Vietnamese landscape, to scuba diving among stingrays, it’s been quite the adventure.

I’ve seen the most beautiful sunsets, swam in the clearest waters and met some of the friendliest local people in the world.

Until the next trip!

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North Thailand: Temples, Elephants, Waterfalls & Fire Shows

When I think of Thailand, I’d always just pictured beautiful white beaches, drug-fueled Full Moon parties and close encounters with elephants and tigers. 

Knowing what my terrible sense of geography was like, my dad sent me on my way with a Lonely Planet travel guide, making me promise him that I’ll do some research and not end up on the wrong flight.

Bangkok

I arrived in Bangkok in the late evening, and was already full of fear; what if I can’t find the hostel? What if I get mugged on the way? And what if some dodgy taxi driver drives to kidnap me?! But within minutes I was chatting away with my taxi driver and my nerves soon turned into excitement. 

After a few failed attempts at teaching me how to say ‘thank you’ in Thai, we made it to my hostel, where I was reunited with my friend, who had already made a few other friends in the hostel. 

Despite being exhausted from the journey, we soon found ourselves wandering down the infamous Khaos San Road; a chaotic jungle of street vendors, bars and restaurants selling everything from cocktail buckets and scorched scorpions to handmade ‘I love pussy’ wristbands and ping-pong shows. 

Somehow the scorpions didn’t quite have the same appeal as the buckets, so we bought some mojitos before calling it a night!

After the mayhem of Khao San Road, we decided it was probably time to explore the sights, and prove to my dad that I wasn’t just going away to get drunk all the time. 

I’d been told by friends who had been to Bangkok before that ‘it was a shithole, but a loveable shithole’, so it’s safe to say that my expectations of the city hadn’t been that high. However there are loads of wonderful things to see without venturing too far out of the city. 

We splashed out on the Grand Palace Complex and Wat Phra Kaew, which the Lonely Planet insists is the must-see attraction in Bangkok. Both of course had stunning architecture (although you couldn’t get very close to the palace itself) but we found ourselves enjoying some of the smaller attractions much more. 

It was a massive relief to be greeted by a calm and relatively empty Wat Pho/Reclining Buddha after the crowded palace complex, and the Buddha was overwhelmingly impressive in size.

Another highlight for us was the Golden Mount, which situated atop Bangkok’s only hill, gave us a fantastic view of the city.


On our last day, we decided to have a break from the temples, and visit the Chatuchak Market, one of the largest weekend markets in the world. The market is far bigger than I ever imagined, and features several different sections, including food, clothing, pets, electronics and more. 

We treated ourselves to some tasty fruit smoothies and street food before finishing off the day with a relaxing boat trip down the Chao Phraya river.

Chiang Mai

One overnight bus later we arrived in Chiang Mai along with several other travellers at 4.30am. Longing to get to our hostel beds, we hopped in a taxi only to find our hostel was shut for the night. 

Unlike the streets of Bangkok where you can buy cheap street food until the early hours, Chiang Mai goes to sleep around 12pm, so we resorted to buying a cheap pot noodle from a local supermarket.

The first thing I was keen to do in Chiang Mai was to get up close and personal with some elephants. As I was fully aware about the animal cruelty surrounding certain elephant camps in South East Asia, I specifically chose a sanctuary which didn’t offer riding and had good reviews online. I did the half-day tour, where you got to feed and wash the elephants before having a swim in a nearby waterfall. 

It was wonderful to finally see elephants up close, however I can’t help but still worry about the way they’re treated, although the staff did seem very caring towards them. I think next time, I will do further research and choose one of the proper care homes where you just get to see the elephants wander around rather taking part in the organised activities with them.


After a good night’s rest we visited a few local temples, including Wha Phra Sing before stumbling across a beautiful park in the heart of the city. With pretty flowers and fountains everywhere, the park is a popular spot for yoga, and we found ourselves surrounded by yoga and circus enthusiasts taking part in an acro-yoga festival. 

Sitting next to the water, it was a perfect spot to enjoy a bit of afternoon relaxing and reading.


Desperate to get out of the city and into the countryside, we rented a scooter and drove out to the nearby nature park for some trekking and sightseeing. 

On the drive up, we stopped off at the Phuphing Palace, next to the Wat Phra That Doi Suthep temple. While you can’t go into the palace itself, you do get to look around the beautiful gardens with the most colourful floral displays you can imagine. 

The nature trekking trail led us to a fantastic viewpoint where we could really appreciate the vast size of the forest. We decided to cool off with a dip in a little waterfall pool we found, which was certainly refreshing after walking around in the heat!

Pai

If there’s anywhere in Northern Thailand I was most excited to visit it was Pai. Promises of a hippy paradise did not disappoint, and as soon as we arrived we knew the windy and bumpy road journey there was worth it. 

In Pai, it’s a popular choice to rent scooters and explore the pretty scenery around the small town, however we opted to just do an all day tour which included bamboo rafting and exploring the nearby caves, a viewpoint, hot springs and a waterfall before finishing off at the canyon to see the sunset. 

I was surprised they managed to fit so many activities into one day, but it was a fantastic day from start to finish. Local tour guides took us through the caves, and although they couldn’t speak much English, they delighted in pointing out rock formations in the shapes of various animals like snakes, crocodiles and elephants. Our tour lady even giggled away after pointing out a rock that looked like a breast! 

The highlight of the day for me had to be the hot springs and the canyon – the sunset was just beautiful.

The following day we moved hostel to the Famous Circus Hostel, where we were eager to meet up with some friends from Chiang Mai. Circus is the perfect hostel for relaxing in the day and socialising at night. It was great to finally get in a bikini and enjoy some sun by the pool – although I made the classic British mistake of getting burnt to a crisp on the first day. But it was nothing a little after sun couldn’t sort out! 


The Circus Hostel features different activities every night, from fire shows to beer pong tournaments. 

On our first night, we watched a fire show, where performers did poi, staff and hula-hooping. Being a poi enthusiast himself, my friend performed some fire poi as part of the show as well. 

Like Chiang Mai, the bars in Pai close around 12pm, however one bar, Don’t Cry, stays open until the early hours. So most nights we found ourselves following the sea of glitter-clad travellers to Don’t Cry for some drinking and dancing.


Pai was the perfect place to rejuvenate after the hustle and bustle of Bangkok and Chiang Mai and it is certainly my favourite place out of the three.

Although we only visited a snippet of North Thailand, it’s been the perfect start to my South East Asia travels and I’m already certain that I’ll be back here again!