Traveling In Thailand
Hat Yai was the first town we stopped in when we crossed the Malaysian border into Thailand. It was a great first impression because we had all of the spoils of seeing ornate temples and trying delicious food without the onslaught of tourists we would later find clogging up the rest of the country. There is a large reclining Buddha that is every bit as cool as the one in Bangkok and it is free. We had the place to ourselves as well.
We visited Railay beach as opposed to Ao Nang to avoid the crowds of drunk children. We stayed on the east side of Railay, which was obviously cheaper than the west side, but you can walk between the two in a matter of minutes. The beach is very nice on Railay with the large rock formations towering over the shoreline. There is plenty of beach to spare even with the growing number of hotels and resorts. We did notice a pretty steep price hike in most shops and restaurants compared to the rest of Thailand but you can still make it work on a budget.
Phi Phi Island
The beach in Phi Phi is obviously one of the nicest around. We enjoyed hiking to the lookout to a great view as well as taking kayaks around the bay to see the infamous Monkey Beach. That being said, Phi Phi ranks pretty high on the list of least authentic travel experiences. The former fishing village now exists entirely to serve crowds of drunk European teenagers it would seem. A great deal of the hotels, dive shops, restaurants, and bars are now owned and operated by foreigners and expats as well. Nothing ruins the unique feeling of being in a foreign land quite like being frequently approached by people from your same country trying to sell you on a boat tour or get you to eat at their restaurant.
Phuket is no doubt where all of the German and Australian expats go to retire with their child brides. The Phuket Town is a lot more authentic than the beach areas, but then you don’t get the beach. We stayed on Patong Beach so we would have easy access to everything else but it its definitely hte epicenter for all of the nonsense. A few years ago the water on Patong Beach was declared so polluted with fecal matter and runoff waste that it is was deemed unfit for swimming. People still swim in it though…The local government hasn’t made much of an effort to warn anybody because that might cost them some tourist dollars. There are plenty of restaurants in town serving fresh seafood as well as about 100 different places to get shawarma. We had a nice time hanging out there and there are plenty of cheap places to stay.
Ban Krut was a nice stop on our way to Bangkok from the south. Many people take the long haul train ride all the way to the capital from the south but we chose to break the trip up into a few stops. Ban Krut was the longest and perhaps the most notable. It is a quiet fishing area with a long stretch of beach along Thailand’s gulf coast. There are mostly just resorts but we lucked out and found a nice Airbnb that was affordable for a few days. The real highlight is the large golden Buddha and accompanying temple that sit along a hillside looking out over the sea. You can see them from anywhere in town and they serve as a useful landmark for fishermen as well. The elaborate temple is free to enter and quite isolated away from the usual crowds you might find elsewhere. We enjoyed having the place to ourselves and walking around taking in the view and admiring the great gold Buddha.
We spent 8 days in Bangkok during our stay and we arrived just 2 days after the final cremation ceremony for the late king. Needless to say, the arrangements pretty well dominated the city during that week and made for a very unique experience for our stay. We spent most of our time visiting the various temples around town. We went to the grand palace twice but left because of the absurd crowd size. There are so many great places to eat in Bangkok and cool food to try. We tried to evenly split our time between eating street food and trying small local restaurants. I was surprised that Bangkok wasn’t the crazy gigantic Asian city I had pictured. I always imagined it along the ranks of Singapore and Tokyo but it was surprisingly calm and manageable for backpackers.