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Monday, 04 December 2006

Magical Thailand

Written by Nikki Lotz
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Bangkok is a magical place. It’s a bustling and colorful warren of small alleys, grand boulevards and intriguing market places where the air smells of incense and spice. The friendly locals have a zest for life and a very different idea on how to live it. As you drive through the streets-horns blaring and your life flashing before your eyes- you realize that the taxi drivers are high on a little more than life.

Upon arriving at the airport, avoid the masses of cab drivers offering rides at highly inflated prices. Instead, take the bus to town and a tuk tuk to your hotel from there. If you decide to cab it, remember that the price is highly negotiable. The tuk tuk drivers are plentiful and cheap and have a wonderful knowledge of local tourist destinations that they are more than willing to take you to. The motorcycle drivers with orange vests also act as taxis and are a good option if you are alone and want a cheap ride.

If you plan on taking a domestic flight, prepare yourself for just as interesting a trip! Seats are taken on a first come first serve basis. Food and drinks are available, but only on request and at an extra charge. The flights are short, chaotic and hugely entertaining. However, if you are particularly fond of following rules, afraid of flying, or think that children should be seen and not heard, then the bus is for you!

beachAside from the incredible countryside and magnificent beaches, one of my favorite things about Thailand is the food. There are many restaurants and eateries that have verandas where you can enjoy the glorious curries, soups and noodle dishes that are Thai food. They are followed by fresh fruit desserts and cooling smoothies. Though you are advised not to eat food from street vendors, try it anyway. The Pad Thai and mystery meat on a stick are among my favorite culinary experiences. Of course, this does not go unpunished, and I have often regretted some of my purchases. In order to prevent this, try to buy from vendors where local people eat and try to clarify what’s in the food; many of the locals speak English, or something like it.

In the streets of the city, women balance baskets of produce on long sticks and the fruit vendors have glass carts filled with crushed ice and a large variety of interesting fruits. Try them all! The sellers are happy to chop up a variety bag for you. The brown spicy stuff they sprinkle on, although tasty, is pure MSG, so be sure to tell them beforehand if you don’t want any. Try the orange juice from the legion of stands you will find in Bangkok. The oranges are small and sour-looking, but the juice is heavenly.

If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of Thailand! The oppressive heat and stifling humidity is enough to leave you feeling half-baked and lethargic. Air-conditioning is a luxury here, but if you move slowly and keep hydrated, you will soon become accustomed to the heat’s constant presence. Try to avoid fancy hairstyles and heavy clothing.

Thailand is a hippie backpacker’s heaven and you are sure to meet many fellow travelers, all berry brown and laid back. Getting around is easy as cab drivers are plentiful, but if you feel a little more adventurous, you can take a motorcycle cab or a tuk tuk. The fares (as with all things in Thailand) are highly negotiable. Not sure where to go next? Ask your driver for advice, they know the city best and will be happy to take you from place to place (for a small fee of course). Fellow travelers are also a great source of up-to-date information.

Koh San Road is the most popular market destination. The surrounding areas are full of budget hotels, backpacker’s lodges and cheap eateries. The market is sublime, a place where you can get anything from a university degree to a tailor-made suit and a hundred shades of in-between. Cab drivers have special relationships with many of the market stallholders, especially the tailors, and get a small tip for customers they bring to the store. You can ask your cab driver for advice on where to get the best bargains. Do visit one of the many tailors on Koh San Road; you can have anything made at prices that are truly amazing.

One night in Bangkok is indeed enough to make a hard man crumble and you would be doing yourself a great disservice if you were not to venture out to the jungles, the beaches, the oceans, the waterfalls, and the monasteries that are Thailand.

boatI took my own advice for once and headed off to the alluring beaches of Koh Chang: Thailand’s second largest island after Phuket. Do yourself a favor and find out the ferry times beforehand so that, unlike me, you don’t spent an afternoon snacking from the vending machine and playing fish with a four year old and a deck of 48 cards. The ferry ride is a short 35-40 minutes and then…. Wow! The scenery is tropical island bliss, the bars are plentiful and the beaches are sublime. The Hotels nearest the ferry are expensive, but sumptuous and well worth the investment. The west coast has nicer beaches and clearer water. Most of the development has occurred along this strip, while the east coast remains mostly undeveloped.

We decided to venture further up the hill to the more affordable areas. A friendly local driver gave us a lift and we began investigating the various accommodation options. The further up the hill we went, the cheaper and more rustic it became until, at last, we found the Tree House. This delightful collection of bamboo shacks on virgin beach is quaintly free of such modern fetters as electricity. The rooms are built on stilts that allow the ocean to splash up under them at high tide, making a delightful babble as they move the pebbles about. The outdoor bathroom/shower is simply a squat pot and a bucket full of water. The restaurant is a gem with extensive wooden decks that are a gorgeous mess of hippies, pets, children and

The whole island is a hodgepodge of hotels and backpacker lodges with an equally interesting array of bars and restaurants, many of them right on the beach. Koh Chang is a little too big to navigate by foot, but friendly locals are happy to give you a lift and there is always the option of renting a scooter (an inexpensive mode of transport that requires nothing but a passport to hire). Be careful because this extremely liberal approach to safety results in equally liberal interpretations of traffic rules.

waterfallKoh Chang is home to the Koh Chang Marine National Park, and so it was with great excitement that we headed out for our first snorkeling expedition. There are hundreds of small tour operators who offer different packages, so shop around for the one that best suits you. The tour guides will pick you up from your hotel and take you to the docks (which are themselves an amazing array of shops, restaurants and boats). From here you will head out to various spots and enjoy some of the best snorkeling in the world. We went to three different snorkeling locations, all of which were filled with such an abundant assortment of gorgeous fish and other sea creatures, that I could scarcely believe my eyes! Bring your certification, as many operators offer diving tours.

Koh Change boasts many beautiful waterfalls in magical rain forests. Often difficult to reach and badly signposted, they are well worth the effort. You will need to book a tour or hire transport to get to most of the spots, as they are in more remote regions. To enter some of the falls, you will need to pay a small fee of 200 baht (adults) or 100 baht (children). Than Mayom is the largest of the falls and is situated near the Marine Park. There are 3 waterfalls within a 4km radius and camping is allowed here. Klong Nonsi, Kiripet and Klong Nueng are also among the more popular falls. To find information on the falls, visit one of the many tourist information outlets, tour guides or . There are also an abundance of camping opportunities and hiking trails- some of which involve an elephant ride.waterfall

Thailand is one of the more popular tourist destinations and for good reason.. The aesthetic beauty of the countryside is magnificent; the people are friendly and happy to help, the food is incredible, and there is an endless list of activities to enjoy.

©Nikki Lotz

Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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