Among my passions is travelling and experiencing new cultures. My favourite destination to date is Thailand which I was fortunate enough to spend three 'out of this world' weeks there travelling. Thailand has three distinct seasons, the hot season which runs from March to May or June, followed by the rainy season until November, and the cool season until the end of February. I travelled in September, which was the rainy season and boy did it rain! I have never experienced such velocity of rain drops anywhere before. The good thing however,was that within minutes,the blazing sunshine would show its face and literally dry everything up quicker than a haidryer. The humidity did take some getting used to but evoked alot of laughter as we walked outside our hotel room and watched our clothes sudenly cling to our bodies like a magnet! I soon learned that minimilism was best. A simple light weight cotton pair of bottoms and a cotton top. Bearing all through clothes is not advised especially in Thailand!
We took a flight from Manchester airport, England, originally heading straight to Bangkok via Abu Dhabi. However due to a 5 hour delay we ended up flying to Phuket Island and then took a 1 hour internal flight to Bangkok the following day or rather 2 days! We arrived in Bangkok tired and jet lagged but very excited and filled with anticipation
video footage of Bankok edited to music!
After anxiously muddling our way through the crowds at Bangkok airport and filling out the various paperwork to get us into the country, we eventually took our bus to the hotel we'd be staying in for the next four nights.
The traffic in Bangkok is something to behold and is an earthbound and consuming hassle for everyone. During peak hours the Thai idea of 'jai yen' (cool heart) - remaining unpeturbed even in the most trying situations- is tested to the full. The streets are dizzying, crammed with various modes of transport and lined with food carts selling Thai classics for next to nothing. However despite all the manic energy, Thai society does remain deeply conservative. The contrasts between the worldwide reputation for sleaze and the need for 'social order' is evident. Calls for drinking age, for example, to be raised to twenty five!
Street stalls, markets and food
Bangkok is a shoppers paradise with stores and markets to suit every taste. We soon realized that three meals a day was quite a European idea and found ourselves snacking throughout the day by the landscape of food stalls. In the mornings the vendors sold steaming cups of thick filtered coffee with doughnuts to dunk. By mid-day the food had changed to rice and curries made to order and fruit snacks. In the evenings we either ate at our hotel or dined in the lanes which were converted into communal dinner tables. We prefered the latter, enabling us to experience and participate in the Thai culture of slurping down shared dishes or bowls of noodles accompanied by bottles of beer or fruit juices. You will never be asked by a Thai whether or not you 'like' Thai food but rather 'Do you know how to eat Thai food?' Their reverence for food is extremely evident in Bangkok. The average Bankokia can appear to be little more than a string of meals and snacks with the odd attempt at work, not the other way around! If you can adjust your stomache to fit in with this then a stay in Bangkok can be delicious!!
There is so much to see in Bangkok and as we were in the city for only three days then planning an 'itinerary' was a necessity.
There are literally hundreds of temples in Thailand. They are sacred places and should be treated with respect and temple etiquette followed. Shoes must be removed on entering the building and also dress rules are strictly enforced at some temples especially Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace grounds. You are quickly provided with appropriate clothing to enter but definitely not the latest fashion!
This is exactly where we headed first to the Grand Palace. It is situated in the historic heart of Bangkok, Ko Ratanakosini. We decided to take a tuk tuk, one of the more expensive ways to get around the city but alot more fun and definitely an experience I will never forget in a hurry as we wound our way around through the pollution and traffic of Bangkok!
Wat Phra Kaew
This temple complex is the spiritual core of Thai Buddhism and the monarchy, united in what was the country's most holy image, the Emerald Budda. Attatched to the temple is the former royal residence The Grand Palace which was once a guarded city of rituals and social hierachy. Today The Grand Palace is only used in ceremonial occasions. Visitors are allowed to walk around the grounds and four of the remaining palace buildings. This place is spectacular and certainly has a mystical feel that I wish could have been captured on camera film!
I'd heard and read so much about the floating markets in Thailand. The scenes are all as iconic as The Grand Palace and so this was definitely an activity on our 'to do list'.
Amphawa floating market is about one and a half miles from Bangkok and a must place to see for anyone visiting. It doesn't open until late afternoon and so is great for late risers! We took a boat ride through the market and marvelled at the many foods and goods that were available. While there we coudn't resist sampling food cooked for us by a Thai lady from her boat. We sat while she began to prepare us some spicy grilled fish, soaking in our surroundings and watching the local people seeming to enjoy the market as much as us.
Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai
On the the fourth day of our trip we took another internal flight to Chiang Rai in Northern Thialand. The flight took roughly 1 hour and another couple of hours by bus to finally reach our destination. I was particularly surprized at how much there was to see in this part of Thailand, considering it is probably the most rural of all and renowned for the growing of opium by the hill people. It was once the centre of all opium and poppy growing and of course trafficking in the country. However, instead the roads were flanked by countless small resteraunts and vendors' sovenir stalls.
The purpose of our journey to these parts was to visit the infamous 'Golden Triangle', the former lawless border country of Thailand, Burma and Laos. We took a long boat trip up the Mekay river and our journey gave us the opportunity to see glimpses of village life on the riverside settlements, particularly over Laos. When we arrived at the Burmese border we took the oppotunity to to have our passports stamped. Unfortunately we could not wander off further than a few hundred metres because of the conflicts in the country. This was certainly an eery experience having educated ourselves a little on the history of the Burma border clashes. Being greeted by two armed burmese men did not help diffuse our fears. They watched us curiously as we quickly took our photographs and then almost thrust ourselves back into the. boat. They obviously found this amusing noticing the terror on our faces as they chuckled to one-another and then gave us a smile!
The boat trip was idylic and on the return journey I found myself feeding a baby elephant in a bamboo forest. Folding the fruit into the nozzle of his trunk while listening to bells tolling in Laos and watching smoke rise in the hills of Burma. A real body and soul experience I will never forget!
On the seventh day of our trip we took a coach from Chiang Rai to Chiang Mai. It took roughly three and a half hours, but the journey was breathtaking as we drove through the picturesque Northern mountains of Thailand.
On this particular day I remember having a strong craving for a simple cheese sandwich in soft brown bread. Up until now we'd eaten mostly Thai food consisting of rice, noodles and various meats with lots of spice. My constitution was becoming a little intolerant and I desperately wanted a sandwich!
We spent a few days in Chiang Mai visiting more temples and also a night bazzar where we purchased gifts to bring home. The highlight however, for me in Chiang Mai was visiting an elephant sanctuary and trekking through the forest with the elepants and their keepers.
At first I was a little reluctant about the elephant trek but we were quickly re-assured that the elephants were well cared for by the centre who were obviously contributing to their welfare and development. We watched the baby elephants at play and bathe in the river. It was a truly magical experience.
The name Coral Island creates images and thoughts of tropical paradise. Well, let me tell you that this is exactly what it was! After taking another flight to Phuket we were transported by ship onto this stunningly beautiful island where we spent seven glorious nights soaking up the rays and relaxing by the crystal clear waters of the sea. Our trip to Thailand had been an experience of a lifetime. The Thai people renowned for their smiley faces, had welcomed us,shared their homes, their souls, and a little of their lives. We returned to the Uk a little more enriched and vowed to return. This is something I will still endeavour to do..