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image Growing up, I loved the Indiana Jones movies and the Jurassic Park trilogy – I can’t imagine there are many people my age who didn’t do exactly the same. So I feel really lucky to have been able to explore incredible places on my travels in Thailand that have instantly transported me to those childhood favourites. You might remember my posts on Khao Sok and the stunning landscape that looked exactly like a scene out of Jurassic Park? At any moment I half expected a dinosaur to loom out of the bushes while canoeing and trekking through the lush green rainforest. I loved that being in this place as an adult could still capture the imagination as it did when I was a child. So you can imagine how excited I was to arrive in Ayutthaya – one of the old Kingdoms of Thailand as Bangkok is now. All my reading up on this amazing piece of Thai history revealed incredible pictures of crumbling ruins and huge temples that could have come straight out of The Temple of Doom! I couldn’t wait to arrive, get myself a bike and get out exploring.imageimageI arrived at the train station after an hour on the train and was taken straight to my guest house by a pre-arranged tuk tuk driver. After checking in, and finding my room was huge, cosy and with its own bathroom, I headed to Tesco Lotus for water and phone top-up – and this was one of the best moves I made while in Ayutthaya. It was there that I met a wonderful Thai woman who quickly adopted me and became a good friend in just three short days. Filo, who moved to Ayutthaya after her home in Bangkok burned down, has two daughters around my age and is just a little bit older than my mum. She spoke great English, and with a teeny bit of Thai I had learnt and good old Google Translate, we managed to tell each other quite a lot about our lives. After spending some time at her home with her and her sister, plus their collection of seriously cute dogs, she decided to take me out on a little scooter ride around all of the best temples in the historical park. She took me to Wat Phra Mahathat which is where a sandstone Buddha head lies entangled in a tree’s roots, then on to Wat Phra Si Sanphet which was pretty damn spectacular, Wat Phanan Choeng, Wat Chai Wattanaram and several others including one with a huge reclining Buddha. All were beautiful and so grand, it was pretty amazing to think how long they had been stood there.imageimageAfter a lovely afternoon of sightseeing, chatting to Filo’s friends and eating fried chicken with sticky rice, we parted ways as Filo had to travel to Bangkok to visit one of her daughters, but we made a plan to meet two days later for more sight seeing. I headed out that night to dinner at a fabulous little restaurant called Sai Thong which was just one street from where I was staying – it promised choice from over 180 dishes plus live music, and all with a river view and cheap prices. Perfect – it was a lovely evening and I tried some delicious dishes including one with wild boar and another with river fish. It was so refreshing to have an evening alone to eat, read and relax after a busy few weeks. I planned my activities for the next day and had an early night. The next morning I hired a cute little bike that I can only describe as seriously vintage – as in no gears, 100 years old and heavy. I actually have an admission that I hadn’t been on a bike for about 10 years at this point so was rather dreading falling off an embarrassing myself, but I did pretty damn well! It really is like riding a bike!imageimageThat day I spent cycling around the rest of the temples and sights, they will give you a map in your guest house and it is easily signposted to find all of them. Cycling is by far the best way to get around as tuk tuks are expensive and a scooter is just a bit too fast to take it all in. The temples are all stunning and all worth a look, a two full days should be about enough to fit everything in, but make early starts to avoid the serious heat of the day and to beat any crowds. Avoid the elephant kraal if, like me, you are a bit sensitive to the mistreatment of animals as these poor elephants are chained and forced to dance for audiences of tourists – the sight made me feel sick to my stomach and I will be posting on this again later on. I would really recommend getting to as many of the temples as possible and hiring a scooter to get to the floating market, which Filo and I did the following day. It is also definitely worth going to the museum and tourism centre – both offer useful insight into the history behind these amazing landmarks are will really help to contextualise everything without needing an audio guide. I skipped the audio guide and preferred to cycle round and explore by myself so the museums were great for learning more. If you have the time, I would definitely say two full days and three nights is a perfect amount of time to explore at a leisurely pace as things are a little spread out here and you may want to indulge in a few extra cycle rides like I did.image

 

Have you been to Ayutthaya? Which was your favourite temple and how did you enjoy exploring? Would you stop off here on your way to the north? 

Ab Lucy sign off

 

 

 

imageMillions and millions of backpackers move through Thailand each year, probably more, all looking for golden sands, cultural experiences, outdoor activities and more. Thailand is a huge centre for us all to forge connections, friendships and to chase that elusive backpacker dream of being the first to discover something amazing all the while treading a path that has Ben walked by billions before us. Yes I have been reading Alex Garland’s The Beach, and yes it is amazingly accurate to several tourists I have met along the way, although it’s definitely not the incredible utopian thriller I hoped for. Anyway, I digress, it’s no surprise that along the way much of Thailand has filled up with tourism agencies, guides and basically all kinds of Thai people who are offering to plan your trip for you and make it all easier… For a cost. Many of the tourism agencies try to outbid each other and in certain areas off the same trip for various prices leaving you to find the best one. In other areas, they all work together to keep the price the same, but still at the added cost for the traveller.

It’s difficult to know whether you are ever really getting a good deal and that’s why so many choose to just organise the whole thing themselves, but others, out of laziness or just misinformation choose to book all the trips on offer, often seriously affecting their budget and limiting their experience of Thailand. I was most definitely one of these people who likes to organise everything myself from the beginning, I hate brag ripped off and would rather shop around or barter for a good deal, but I know there are others who feel less comfortable doing this. So I wanted to share something with you guys, in case you haven’t already discovered it, that might help save you a bit of money and organising. I had never heard of this until I was halfway through my time in Thailand, but it was sheer luck that I found it when I did. And it really helped shape the rest of my trip.

While staying in Bangkok, I walked out of my hostel one morning and not paying attention fell straight over a woman in the street. Of course, in the British way, I was busy apologising profusely while she was far more interested in having a chat with me. She spoke great English so I explained where I was from and what I was planning to do that day, she was really excited about our plans for food and to go visit some of the smaller and lesser known temples. She was really interested in the rest of my trip as I told her my friend was due to fly home in days and I would once again be travelling solo but up to the north this time. I was touched by her interest do siding I had nearly floored her out of nowhere, in my experience Thai people are very friendly, warm and welcoming, but this woman was something else altogether. She was so kind, helpful and clearly wanted us to have the best day in her country, and for me to have an amazing rest of my trip.imageWithin minutes she had found a government tuk tuk, which is slightly different to all those that drive around manically on the street and overcharge you – but are very hard to spot. They have a licence in the front window that you have to look for, and they charge a hell of a lot less than the rest. She told the lovely tuk tuk driver where to take us – to an amazing little temple with a huge standing Buddha in the centre – with an adorable food market and fair happening outside. After waiting for us to eat and check out the temple, he took us to the Red Mount where he left us to explore but we only paid 30bht! We were so astonished he didn’t ask for any more money for a trip that could normally have cost five times the price, but it was purely because he was working in a government run tuk tuk. I never knew these existed before but it was a revelation and definitely helped our purses over the next few days of exploring.

Inbetween the temples, the tuk tuk driver also stopped off somewhere else at the orders of this amazing Thai woman after she heard about my plans to travel north. The Thai Tourism Agency is a government-run office in Bangkok, just a short walk from Khao San Road, and it is perfect for anyone who doesn’t know where to start when planning their trip, or who is worried about being ripped off. I was greeted straight away by a lovely half Indian and half Thai woman who was eager to help me plan my trip, she straight away booked us on the Floating Market trip for way cheaper than I had seen it elsewhere, we would go the next morning. Then she planned for me a full two weeks of travel from Bangkok to Chiang Mai for just £250. Doesn’t sound much? Well I’ve been budgeting about £250 a week and this was for twice as long and that price included travel, accommodation, some food, and a three day hill tribe trekking trip. It also meant I would be stopping off in some really amazing places including Sukhothai and Ayutthaya – the old kingdoms – along the way to Chiang Mai. It was incredible that she managed to get it down to such a good price and was promising me air conditioned buses, my own room and bathroom in each place and time to explore with flexibility to move travelling dates at a day’s notice.

Put simply, I was really bloody impressed by the whole thing and when it came to the travelling and accommodation, it really was pretty good. Everything ran smoothly and I met some lovely people along the way who were on the same trip. The hill tribe trekking was so much fun, and I will write another post on it for you. This post was just to say a huge thank you for organising this section of my trip, something I had very little motivation to do myself after two of my friends flew home. It was also to try and help wise travellers up to this huge money saver that is right under their noses. It’s suitable for those backpacking for months or a year like me, it’s suitable for retired couples, for young couples, for friends – for anyone. You can only use this service in Bangkok, but you can organise trips for all over Thailand for a couple in weeks of your whole trip – why not go see them and see how they can save you money?

Have you booked travel with the government-run Thai Tourism Agency? How did your journey go? Have you got any other Thai travel cost cheats to share with my readers? 

Ab Lucy sign off

imageI can’t actually believe I’m writing a post about this hell-hole. My friend Lily and I travelled up from Koh Tao and decided to break up the journey to Bangkok by stopping off in Hua Hin, which we had read was a place where Thai people went on holiday. We arrived after spending a day on a ferry and bus – the comfiest bus I’ve ever been on, I hasten to add – and were pretty shocked to see McDonald’s, KFC, Burger King and flashing lights everywhere. It was the trashiest looking place I have seen yet in Thailand and was filled with ageing British and German couples and old men looking for young Thai girls. To say we were disappointed was an understatement, but we sucked it up and luckily were ushered into a guest house by a taxi driver we met in the street. I say luckily because usually I wouldn’t take any notice of these guys, but we couldn’t find the hostel we were after and when we walked into the building the woman was offering us a double room with an ensuite for 300bt a night. We weren’t overwhelmed, but it would do for the first night. Discovering a swimming pool on the roof the following night definitely changed our opinion and made us stay for a few more days instead of switching hotels. (I can’t remember the name of our place but it was almost opposite a bar called Click)imageThe beach at Hua Hin isn’t a stunner. It’s big and long and stretches round the bay but it’s not good for sunbathing, there’s a strong wind that hits the beach making it perfect for windsurfers but less so for relaxing. But the length and the firmness of the sand makes it perfect for an evening run which was something we enjoyed quite a lot – I love running on the beach at home, but it’s definitely better when you can jump in a warm sea after and cartwheel the whole way home. We spent our days relaxing by the pool and our nights shopping at the market. Considering how expensive Hua Hin appears because of all the holiday makers, we actually managed to snap up a load of bargains and even a 100bt foot massage at the market. This was also a great place to stock up on the more commercial items like makeup wipes, sun screen, and any other beauty products with Boots and other stores on offer.imageThe restaurants were good but not the best I’ve seen, street food is a bit lacking here although the market is good for food and particularly for seafood which is prepared right in front of you. Flames shoot up at regular intervals as head chefs cook up lobsters, prawns and huge fish on the grills set up outside the restaurants and the air is filled with the spicy smells of delicious Thai food. We also tried some fabulous duck at a few of the restaurants in the street near our hotel – the first time I had tried duck in Thailand and it was really tasty, with no fat and lots of flavour. I was really impressed with the duck salad and the green duck curry I had, and we also tried some delicious mussels topped with garlic, cheese and Thai herbs. Definitely explore the menus that offer slightly unusual dishes, there’s plenty of different meals on offer here.imageAll of these positives really didn’t outweigh the negatives in Hua Hin, but we really made the best of it by going out and partying with the few locals who actually worked there. This did backfire one night when they took us to a Thai club and we were propositioned by some Thai guys who wanted to pay us for a night… Needless to say we left and didn’t head back there in a hurry. The one saving grace of our time in the town was when I signed us up to do a morning of Muay Thai boxing training at Thai Boxing Garden, which was absolutely amazing! We headed in early to beat the heat but it was already hot and sweaty in the gym where the Thai boxing trainers were waiting. After a warm-up of skipping, it was straight into the straps on our wrists, the boxing gloves and straight into the moves. We worked hard and got results, the guys showed us all the moves and we definitely impressed them. Heck, I impressed myself after weeks of partying on the islands – half expected I would collapse halfway through! We had so much fun and left pumped and excited – we had hoped to make it to another session the next morning, but unfortunately Lily was ill so we couldn’t do it. But I would definitely recommend trying out a session if you get a chance and like to keep fit. It’s great fun, a good workout and good value for money depending on where you do it. There are also options to train every day for a week or longer for those staying longer.imageOverall, my advice would be to both holidaymakers and backpackers – avoid Hua Hin at all costs. We only stayed a few days because we didn’t want to spend too much time in Bangkok before Lily’s flights and because we had a pool, but if you don’t need to break up your journey, just skip it altogether and save yourself from the sight of 60-year-old men with young Thai women. If you do end up there, definitely get away from the strip for an evening by dressing up in your finest and heading to The Hilton where they have a Sky Bar which looks over the whole town and is beautiful all lit up at night. I’ll admit the cocktails aren’t amazing, but they also aren’t too expensive. If you’re like me, you’ll avoid the sugary concoctions and their sickly sweet taste and stick to champagne cocktails and bellinis instead. A nice treat for a backpacker.image

 

Have you ever travelled to a hell-hole? Tell me about your holidays from hell…

Ab Lucy sign off

imageAfter nearly a week of hard partying on Koh Phanang, it was time to explore further and we’d all heard amazing things about Koh Tao. Koh Tao is kind of like Koh Phanang was around 5-10 years ago, it’s the island of the moment, the one every traveller will tell you that you simply MUST go there. That no matter what type of traveller you are, you will surely love it. To an extent, I have to agree that I can’t imagine many people going to Koh Tao and finding any serious reasons to hate it. It’s a beautiful place full of travellers and holiday makers, but for me it lacked any real culture or Thai feeling. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t disappointed in any way because I had purposefully not gone there looking for that. This just serves as a warning for other travellers to not go with expectations of a real Thai island – go there to party, go there to relax, go there to enjoy the beaches and meet people. I loved my time on the island but you don’t go there to experience Thai culture, this is a tiny island with a lot of tourists overpopulating it and if you ask me, it doesn’t have long left before it goes the same way as Koh Phi Phi.imageimageWe arrived by ferry and started trudging up the hill with our bags, desperate to get away from the tuk tuk drivers and hostel touts trying to take our money at the port. We headed towards Sairee Beach which we had heard was home to the best nightspots and beach, we didn’t make it very far and snapped up a cheap room for the night at Mr J’s. It wasn’t great but we made a plan to go straight out minus the bags and find somewhere better for the next day. Three of us bunked in one room and two in the other, but heading out down the beach we decided to move the following morning to SB Cabana which offered three bungalows between five of us, just behind the beach, for just 300bt each across three nights. These were much better and were right in the middle of the main strip which gave us great access to all the best bars and restaurants. On our first night, two of our group stayed in while one got over a cold, but the other three of us decided to head out for dinner and a massage, before we knew it, it was 4am and we were walking back after a lot of cocktails and a lot of fire show limbo – a pretty good start to our time on the island.imageimageThe next few days passed in a blur of parties and fun with our little gang, I can’t fit it all into this post, but one of my highlights had to be the night we all went to the ladyboy show, The Queen’s Cabaret, which was hilarious and the best night’s entertainment ever. Free entry, but drinks are expensive. It’s amazing value and we had a great time singing along to all the songs, the two guys in our group even ended up with a starring role in the show when they were dressed up as ladyboys and took part in the final number. The night didn’t stop there and we spent the rest of it partying on the beach with loads of friends we picked up along the way. I’ll be honest and say the music wasn’t anything incredible and the drinks were average. Although they did sell some pretty tasty buckets that weren’t full of red bull which was a revelation for me. But one great thing about the island is how friendly everyone is, something I didn’t really find when on Koh Phi Phi, everyone here wants to make friends and party together so you feel really welcome. That alone makes for some amazing nights out.imageimageAway from the parties, there’s actually lots to do. I didn’t do the diving this time because I was told the water was pretty murky and I didn’t want to waste my chance but I hope to go back in May. One afternoon, me and one of the guys headed up on a scooter to the viewpoint to check out the island, it was a pretty nerve wracking drive up and really steep, but we made it! Sadly we had chosen a pretty cloudy day so we couldn’t appreciate the full beauty of the island, but it was pretty amazing to look out across the bay even if we couldn’t see the sunset. Heading down in the dark was a bit hairy but funny, and we were soon down at the beach again. The following day, for our final day as a five-some, we hired a long tail boat, grabbed some beers and snacks, and headed out for a day of swimming, snorkelling and exploring a tiny island called Nang Yuen. It was perfect, the water was crystal clear, the sun was hot, the beer was kept ice cold, and there were loads of fish. Yang Nuen was simply stunning as you can see from the pictures and it was a great hangover cure from the night before. Our final night together was the biggest party yet with lots of buckets, naked fire limbo, splashing around in the sea, dancing and singing at the top of our voices and lots of other hilarious moments. A perfect end to our little gang. After three of the group left, one of the girls and I stayed a few extra days to sunbathe and enjoy the island.imageimage

 

Have you been to Koh Tao – what did you think of the island? Have you seen a ladyboy cabaret – did you have as much fun as we did? 

Ab Lucy sign off

 

 

 

 

imageThis is probably going to be one of the hardest posts I’ve ever had to write, not because of some deep emotional turmoil, but because Koh Phanang holds some of the best travelling memories for me so far. How are you supposed to express that in words? Yes, it’s happened, I’ve become one of those people who left their heart on the island. I went with high hopes but low expectations to the island, with plans to meet up with a few friends I had met previously in Phuket for the Half Moon Party. I arrived two days early and hadn’t booked anywhere to stay, so it was just luck I happened to meet two lovely girls at the pier, Maggie and Steph – we ended up rooming together in a bungalow on the west side of the island and had the best time sunbathing and chilling out. It was really nice to see this side of the island and to realise there was much more to Koh Phanang than most of us realise – this side was more aimed at couples and families on holiday, which meant the beaches were far more untouched and we even managed to find one hidden away in a little cove which was just stunning.imageAfter a couple of nights it was time for us to part ways and after a round of goodbyes, I headed over to the other side of the island for a day of shopping in Hadrin with Steph before she moved to the other side of the island for a yoga retreat. After I checked into my new hostel – Baan Thai Backpacker – we headed into Hadrin for a browse round the shops and a peek at the beach. It was actually really lovely considering how touristy that part is, normally I wouldn’t really like this kind of area, but it had a kind of charm – especially when I saw the beach! It definitely helped that in the heat of the day, many of the tourists were either still in bed or staying out of the intense heat so it was a lot quieter than I expected. Later in the day I returned to the hostel – which was one of the best hostels I have stayed in! I can’t rave about these guys enough, Karen and Tristan are the coolest hostel owners ever and it was great having them join in with the partying and even showing us around. If you’re in need of a place to stay, this is the best place for the Half Moon Party and is surrounded by lots of other cool parties, it is a short drive from Hadrin but would also be perfect for the Full Moon Party.imageimageI was finally reunited with my little gang and what lots of new recruits – everyone staying at the hostel was amazing. I don’t think I’ve ever met so many friendly and like-minded people in one place, and it was perfect for anyone travelling alone but looking to make friends. That first night a huge group of us partied all night long at the Maya Jungle Party which remains my favourite party of all of them – the music was the best, I love raving in the jungle and we had a great gang that night. After dancing all night, we headed to the beach for a late night swim – perfect end to the first night. The following day, a group of five of us headed out on scooters to explore the island and some waterfalls – it was a perfect hangover cure and we had a great time. Koh Phanang is a good island for exploring on scooters and it’s nice to get off the touristy part and explore by yourselves – just don’t head down the gravel paths as one of our friends had a bit of a skid.imageimageThat night was the Half Moon Party and we had the best time getting dressed up in our bright colours, getting our faces painted and of course, slathering each other in UV paint. Our hostel hosted a huge pre-drinking party that was actually even more fun than the Half Moon – it was brilliant having the whole hostel together getting painted up and partying. And one of the fun things about meeting people from different countries has to be learning different rules to the drinking games and getting caught out when you forget. We finally headed to the Half Moon Party (1,000 bt including a bucket) and the next few hours are a bit of a blur of crazy excitement, lots of dancing and buckets. Amazingly our group of five managed to stay together despite the queues to get in, and we ended up raving at one of the stages for what felt like hours. Everyone was in the happiest mood and was just going for it – that’s what I love to see, people covered in sweat with UV paint everywhere having the time of their lives. We all had an amazing night and I’m so glad I got to experience Half Moon with these guys.imageThe next day we all felt a teensy bit delicate but after forcing ourselves out for breakfast we decided to head to Hadrin to chill by the beach – it was just what we needed to gather our energies for that night. Before we knew it, a few cocktails by the beach and a bit of browsing the streets suddenly turned into a group tattoo. (Sorry mum and dad, meant to tell you but I forgot!) so now five of us have matching tattoos to remember the week by – don’t worry it wasn’t entirely random. We all wanted to try bamboo tattoos, well a few of us did, and we kind of peer pressured one guy jerk getting his first tattoo. But it was a fun thing to do and I love my tattoo, it was brilliant to see them do bamboo tattoos, which heal pretty much instantly and don’t penetrate the skin as deeply lessening the chance of infection. If I had to have a matching tattoo with anyone, I’m glad it was these guys.imageThat evening we headed to the Ban Tai Afterparty on the beach at around sunset, it was pretty damn beautiful to see the sun setting from the comfort of a hammock with some good music in the background. Each party had a very different atmosphere and different people, this one was much more chilled out with a trancey dance floor inside if you wanted it. We spent the night talking to a lot of randoms, attempting to tightrope walk and dancing our hearts out. It was really nice to party with a change of scenery after two nights in the jungle and we met some real characters at this party including a 74 year old who moved here from Norwich when he retired and goes raving four times a week – what a legend. The next night, after another day on the scooters, we decided to have a night in watching movies and spending some time together as we made plans for Koh Tao – we just couldn’t bare to part ways yet so we planned to island hop the very next day.imageimage

 

Have you been to Koh Phanang? What was your experience like? 

Ab Lucy sign off

 

imageI woke up with a jolt as an alarm went off in the lake hut next door, had I really even been asleep? It felt like just minutes ago the French guy I’d ended up sharing a hut with had been telling me about life as a chiropractor. It took a moment to realise why the alarm was going off and why the heck I was awake when it was pitch black outside and the morning safari was two hours away, but then it all came flooding back. I was up at 5am, along with five others, to paddle out in canoes to watch the sun rise over the jungle. Quickly pulling on my bikini and meeting the others out at the jetty where the canoes lay waiting, some of us pulled on life jackets for a bit of warmth, it was pretty cool out in the jungle at that time. There was joy a single light on around the lake huts, we went by torch light until our eyes accustomed to the stars which lit the beautiful night sky above us.imageimageI won’t lie, there’s something about dark water that kind of freaks me out. I think it’s just the not knowing what is beneath you, not having any warning if something comes for you.. Haha silly I know! I’ve never let it get in the way of doing anything, but I have to admit I hesitated slightly when I saw just how dark it was out there on the lake. I wasn’t the only one who had second thoughts for a split second, but we quickly pushed any doubts to one side, and thank god we did! Climbing into the canoes, I was sharing with an Israeli friend, Joav, who was a bit of an all around Indiana Jones, so he happily took on paddling after we realised our badly timed paddling was more likely to tip us over if I joined in. Paddling like a pro, the canoe cut through the calm surface of the water cleanly and we were soon out in the middle of the lake, having left the others far behind in our dust. We waited, floating silently in the water, for the other two canoes to catch up and listened to the deafening silence. It amazed me that the jungle could ever be that quiet. Apparently earlier in the night, Joav and a local had overheard a wild elephant crashing around in the undergrowth, but now it was deathly silent with the birds and monkeys still yet to wake.imageimageThe others finally steadied themselves and made it out to meet us, we joined the canoes as closely as possible and waited, taking in the whole experience. We floated around, chatting and enjoying the peace of the early morning. Then, shortly after, the sky began to lighten around a mountain to the east of us. The clouds started to form those beautiful patterns, reflecting the first rays of sunlight and the jungle started to come alive. It was beautiful, no words can describe this experience, it left me speechless which is no mean feat. By the time 7am came around the sun was still yet to appear over the mountain, but sadly we had to go back for the morning safari – nonetheless, the sky was beautiful at that time of the morning. It was worth the sheer exhaustion of the late night followed by the early start, the morning safari and a huge uphill hike later that morning.imageimageThe hike was exhausting but great fun, taking us around the lake we started out at a new point with a national park guide leading the way. It was a fairly uphill climb and some people struggled, so beware of you take this one on, but anyone with a standard level of fitness would be fine. The hike took us to a viewpoint which was lovely, but the cave that followed was far more spectacular. This huge cave was filled with stalagmites and stalactites, vipers lay inside and there were huge parts to climb and explore. We all had a great time there, followed by a walk back to the boat where we ate lunch and swam – even inventing pineapple polo as a new game with the leftover peel from lunch. It was a perfect way to end our time as the A Team and sad goodbyes followed the end of this amazing weekend. A smaller group of us who were staying at the park an extra night met up for drinks and card games that might, which was a lovely way to say goodbye before we all parted ways the following day.imageimageKhao Sok was incredible. It was easily one of the most amazing places I have visited in my two-and-a-half months of travelling solo – and believe me I’ve seen a lot of different parts of Thailand in that time. If you love outdoor activities, hiking, canoeing, caving and the like – you will feel right at home here! There is so much to do and see, and you might even get lucky and meet some pretty amazing people like I did.image

 

 

Tell me about the places you’ve travelled to that really stood out in your mind – what made them so special? Have you visited any national parks? 

Ab Lucy sign off

 

 

 

 

 

imageOne of my favourite experiences in Thailand so far has definitely been my time spent in a 160 million year old rainforest slap bang in the centre of the country. When my Lonely Planet and a few websites all described Khao Sok as the ‘real Jurassic Park’ it definitely captured my imagination and conjured up a few images – but nothing prepared me for the real beauty of this completely wild landscape. Coming from the southern islands, it was a complete change of surroundings – from perfect beaches to untamed, lush green forest. It was just what I was in need of, after the bustling, busy time in Phuket Town I was craving some nature and exercise. I was in for a treat, and after a long day spent on a bus with my newfound friend, we pitched up at the road to the national park and were jumped on by the touts trying to sell rooms at their places. In an amazing coincidence, I had planned to stay at Jungle Huts which is recommended by Lonely Planet, the first to approach me was from Jungle Huts and was offering me a treehouse bungalow there for a few hundred less than I had planned to spend – winning!imageAfter settling in and taking a walk round the village, it was time for some serious food and a few drinks with a group of German and Swedish people I had met. That night I had the best nights sleep listening to the jungle sounds of crickets, bats and the occasional monkey and woke up ready to take on the rainforest. I actually headed into the park by myself that first day and planned to spend the day exploring by myself, but overhearing two very familiar accents at the entrance was one of the best things that could have happened. I ended up meeting a couple from Suffolk just minutes into my walk and before you knew it we had teamed up together and hiked around 15km through the park over the course of a day, stopping only to swim in waterfalls spread along the jungle path. It was brilliant, just the exercise my body had been craving and great to get off the beaten path a bit. The travellers you meet in Khao Sok are there on purpose and are a different type to those you meet elsewhere, so it was great to find other people who were after the same experience I was.imageThe couple were actually staying at Jungle Huts as well so that evening we met for dinner and planned to take the overnight trip to the man-made lake that stood in the middle of the park. It was the best decision we could have made and we all went to bed really excited for what the next two days would hold – with promises of caving, hiking, swimming and much more! We also met a small group of people who would be in our tour group the next day which was brilliant and the A Team began to take shape. The next morning, we met our group early and set out on our trip with our tour leader, Mr A – a total legend. After a short drive to pick up snacks and out to the lake, we caught a long tail boat across – an amazing journey that showed us the beauty of the landscape with towering cliffs, vast open spaces and dense jungle all sitting alongside each other. It was heaven rushing across the open water like that and the group of 16 were all beyond excited to see where we would be staying that night. The group was a total mixture of ages from late teens to 60’s, but we all had a great time together.imageimageWe arrived at the lake huts which were all sitting on a giant raft that had been built on the water, the whole thing rocked like crazy every time anyone walked on it and we were all a bit nervous about what the walk would be like after a beer or two! After lunch, we set out for a long hike to a cave in the middle of the jungle, it was amazing. After a short ride on the boat, we hiked through jungle, under towering rocks and over fallen trees, to reach the cave, which we then started making our way through by torchlight. It definitely wasn’t somewhere you wanted to be if the lights went out with snakes, massive spiders and huge frogs living deep within. There were several parts where we had to wade through rushing water, and one point where we actually had to swim with our torches in our mouths, it was awesome! Just the kind of adventurous stuff we were all craving, and the real lack of health and safety made it even more exciting! We all arrived back at the lake huts and dove straight into the lake, which we were told in some places reached depths of 120m, but never got cold. It was strangely warm at all times, but perfect for swimming!imageimageThat night was spent eating a delicious dinner of freshly caught and barbecued fish with the A Team, followed by beers and a night safari where we saw monkeys and stargazed from the long tail boat. It was so beautiful and as someone who loves a bit of stargazing, it was gorgeous to get such an amazing open view of the sky where it was so dark, the stars have never looked to clear. We all went to bed happy and prepared to get up early – at 7am for the morning safari although as all group of us planned to be up even earlier for something very special. There was a group of about six of us who bonded pretty quickly and we decided we wanted to get up to watch the sun rise while out on the lake in canoes. It was amazing and I’ll tell you more about that in part two of my posts.image

 

Tell me about your favourite travelling experience – which places have really made an impact on you? Have you explored any national parks around the world? 

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image Okay so you remember that time I wrote about smear tests? This is going to be a little bit like that… Probably one for the girls and a bit much for the boys to cope with – just warning you now. So Dad, if you’re reading this, you can give this post a miss. Periods. Pretty bloody inconvenient aren’t they? It was never something me really thought about before coming away, but I certainly wish I had now so I could have been more prepared. This is something no one warned me about and something I had never read about, but I know I’m not the only female traveller to be caught out unexpectedly. I’ve met several women on the road who have been only too quick to tell me about the horrors they have faced using Thai toilets when they just want a nice clean toilet with loo roll on hand. When you’re packing to come away, it’s just not something that really crosses your mind because as Westerners, we are so used to having sanitary products on sale in every shop with clean dashing toilets everywhere, and those super hygienic disposal buns for anything that won’t flush. But what happens when it’s not all so convenient?

Surfing the crimson wave, or riding the cotton pony, never seems to come at a good time and it’s far more annoying when you’re going on holiday and you just want to be looking fabulous in a bikini instead of bloated and like a beached whale with spots the size of maltesers. Painting a beautiful picture here aren’t I? To be honest, I’ve never been one of those girls who has been that bothered by periods, they’re an inconvenience but I just get on with it. If I know I’m going away on holiday or something, I will use my contraceptive pill to control when I have a period, so I can time it for a week later or even a month later. Good old microgynon! But what happens when you’re going travelling for a year? Well it’s one thing to run two packs of pills together, but a years worth isn’t quite so good for you I’d imagine, so how do you cope with having a period in Thailand and what do you need to know?

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  1. First of all, it is important for you to realise the toilet situation is pretty different in Thailand. After travelling through the south I have only been exposed to the best toilets so far, but have heard some of those in the north are a lot less desirable. Down south, most of them have flushes, but I have seen a few that require a couple of buckets of water instead.

  2. Toilet tissue has to go in the bin (in most places) and so do all tampons and sanitary products – that means when you change your tampon, it is left wrapped in a bit of tissue in the bin. Seems pretty gross to a westerner, but it’s either that or the whole bathroom with be flooded with whatever else is down there!

  3. Go prepared. Much of Thailand doesn’t sell a fantastic selection of sanitary products, so don’t walk into a 7/11 and expect to find all your favourite brands. You will want to make sure you have a good supply of tampons in particular as I haven’t actually seen them on sale anywhere yet – Thai women apparently use sanitary towels instead as tampons are considered unclean. Pack as many as you can! I met some girls who were having them posted out to them from mum.

  4. The sanitary towels are nothing compared to the slim fit ones at home – while slim, they often seem to come with huge wings. Not quite as discreet and comfortable as the ones from back home, but they do the job when you’re desperate and run out of supplies. Just be sure to stock up when you see them on sale as you often won’t find them in shops in some more remote places. I think some of the Thai women must be shoving a rolled up newspaper up there instead!

  5. Things like wet wipes and anti bacterial gel are really helpful when you want to make sure you have clean hands and a clean body in slightly less clean places. As a backpacker, you quickly lower your standards of cleanliness to fit with the place around you, and when you add in limited clothes and underwear in your bag, sometimes you just want to feel fresh – these can make all the difference.

  6. If you have quite heavy periods, it might be worth seeing your doctor before you go and seeing if they can put you on a contraceptive pill that will help to lighten them and to make you more comfortable when travelling – but this is totally a matter of personal choice. I’ve met girls who have the injection, the implant, the coil and a range of other methods for dealing with periods while on the road.

  7. Don’t let it scare or stop you! Having a period in Thailand is really not that bad and it is certainly no excuse to lock yourself in a dark room and cry. It doesn’t have to stop you from doing anything, I still hiked, swam, sunbathed and explored plenty of places and it didn’t stop me enjoying myself. Just make sure you don’t push yourself too hard, if you have bad period pains then give yourself some painkillers and take care of yourself. It’s okay to have a lazy day when you’re feeling rubbish, or to head to the city when you’re too bloated to feel comfortable in a bikini. That’s the beauty of backpacking, it’s so flexible and will fit around how you feel.

Okay that’s all my period advice for today – girls I hope it helped you. Guys, well done if you made it to the end of this post.

If anyone has any questions, I’m always at the end of a comment, so leave one below and I’ll always get back to you. Or why not share your period horror stories from your travels? 

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I’ve always been a very confident person, anyone who knows me will tell you that, but travelling has brought out a confidence I never knew I had within me. People talk about travelling changing them, particularly solo travelling, they say it makes you more relaxed, more flexible, more open to experiences. I don’t agree that it changes you, I think it actually just brings out the true version of yourself – the one that was hiding behind layers of stress and hard work before. While backpacking you are finally free of the rat race, of the pressures of work and society, you can finally be the person you always wanted to be, but never thought you could. It sounds silly and I’m sure those who haven’t done it feel like I’m getting all emosh about travelling, but the ones who have experienced it are nodding vigorously at the screen.

I’ve met so many people who have spoken of the exact same feeling – that feeling of a sudden strength and confidence, that undeniable capability. So where does it come from? Well the fact that so many are heading out on these enormous trips by themselves, carrying their life in a bag and visiting all kinds of places alone, relying completely and totally on themselves is no small thing. It is a huge life-altering experience, particularly if, like me, you’ve never done anything like this before. I’ve already learnt so much by relying totally on myself to get from A to B, and then on to C, I’ve had to find my way home from the middle of nowhere by trying to communicate with those who don’t speak English, I’ve had to look after myself when I’m sick. But I’ve done it all and done it well.

That is where the confidence comes from, that silent assuredness that I can cope with anything that is thrown at me, that no matter when happens or where I end up, I will manage to find a welcoming hostel, a bar and a good meal. That I can cope with the paperwork – arranging visas and flights on the road, making sure I have permits for national parks and all the rest. It’s that knowledge that despite the language barrier, you can communicate your needs and wants to others successfully, that you can get where you need to be and you will be okay. It’s that confidence that when you’re walking the streets you are not constantly going to be a target of thieves, rapists and all the rest, that people actually just want to meet you and talk to you, unlike what everyone else said before you left!imageWhat raises you higher every single day is meeting new people, being that person who puts themselves out there repeatedly, just waiting to see if a new friendship will form or if you will be knocked back. It’s so easy when you’re in a cosy bubble of friends and family back home who have all known your forever to not realise your value or your worth. But constantly meeting new people, telling them your stories and about your life and seeing their eyes light up, you realise that actually strangers think you’re pretty awesome and they want to be friends with you. That actually there are people outside your bubble, from across the globe, who can have so much in common with you. Like when you meet someone and within a day you know you’ll be friends for life, like you’ve been waiting your whole life to meet the other part of yourself. That’s the travel soulmate.

All of these things, and so many more, help boost you up as a person and make you realise how amazing you are, and that’s why travellers come back with that glow. That glow of self confidence and self assurance, the one the non-travellers can’t quite place but put it down to a tan and a happy holiday. It’s more than that, it’s knowing who you are and who you want to, and can, be. At home it is so easy to be caught up in everyday life, but removing yourself from that busy, stressful environment really helps fast track you to becoming that confident and fabulous human being that takes time to grow. So if you’re heading out on a solo trip somewhere, remember to embrace this feeling and to feel proud when you get it, it means you’ve grown as a person and realised how awesome you really are!image

Do you know the feeling I’m talking about? How has travelling changed you as a person? Or has it had no effect on you? Tell me about your experiences – whether a year-long solo trip or a weekend away with friends. 

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One of the main things I absolutely adore about travelling is all those completely unexpected and unplanned experiences that you stumble across on your journey. For someone who was little miss organised at home, it’s a refreshing change from life at home and has led to some of the most exciting and memorable moments for me. By following my gut instincts and my heart, I have opened myself up to a wealth of experiences and opportunities to meet amazing people I would never have come across otherwise, and for that I will be forever grateful. All of my friends know exactly who they are – the girls I randomly met at the pier who I ended up sharing bungalows with and having the best girlie sleepover. The Pioneer Club who have well and truly stolen my heart after partying on the islands and getting matching bamboo tattoos. The couple I met deep in the jungle who live just an hour away from me at home – all have played a huge part in my journey.

One night in Phuket was a perfect example of this, I was supposed to meet some blogger friends for dinner but I was given the wrong directions to meet them and we totally missed each other. Starving, I wandered along the street with food on my mind and found a little restaurant that looked more like a school cafeteria serving just Thai people so I headed in and had a delicious plate of fried rice and satay chicken. I ate surrounded by awesome Thai men who didn’t speak a word of English but we still managed to communicate the basics as they tried to teach me some words and tried to trick me into eating deathly spicy food. It was such a perfect example of how welcoming and friendly the Thai culture is, the group of men made me feel completely at home and despite a serious language barrier, we realised that humour is something that can translate across any language if you give it a chance. It was such a fun experience and one I might not have had if it weren’t for missing my friends.imageAfter saying my goodbyes and leaving the restaurant, I wandered down the road trying to find my way back and happened to pass an artist working in a gallery at the side of the road. Curiosity got the better of me and I couldn’t resist a peek at his work. I tip-toed into the workshop, trying not to disturb him while he worked, but he looked up straight away and welcomed me in. It turned out that Monthian Yangthong is hailed as one of Phuket’s, and possibly Thailand’s, most popular and talented artists who has exhibited his works all over. I was so lucky to walk in at that point because I had the amazing opportunity to see him working on his latest piece, surrounded by walls adorned with previous works. Known as “the artist who steals faces”, his latest collection is a series of woodcuts made of the faces of well known western artists ranging from painters and musicians, to politicians, scientists and more.

The works are amazing. Imposing, and yet welcoming, the carvings use a combination of dark and light to tell the story through the faces of these well known characters. Some are haunting and the others seem almost endearing. I’m no art expert, but I know how amazed I was by the level of complexity to his work – how each carving took so long to prepare and plan, how he created many different variations of the same work to contribute to a final piece, and how he told each individual’s story through minute additions to the carving that were blended in to the very faces. It was so interesting to see the different stages of each work, and to see how his works have changed over time. From a family of Buddhist farmers who originate in the north, Monthian finds these values translate over into his works with symbolism of both appearing in the form of wheat and lotus flowers, plus the use of water.imageI spent several hours hanging out in his workshop, watching him work, talking about art and Thailand. He was interested to hear about my travels, and although at times we had to struggle to translate certain words, we managed to have a really interesting chat about his background and his works. It was such an enlightening night and a great experience for someone who didn’t really know much about art to speak to someone who has dedicated his life to it. One of my favourite things about the evening was that while we chatted about art and life in Thailand, his family all sat on the floor alongside us and painted. Such an artistic family, his wife was working on a painting of sunflowers, while his two beautiful little girls painted and made cut-outs. None of the three of them spoke any English, but they made me so welcome by showing me their paintings, offering me oranges and water. It was so touching to see how kind they were and how welcoming to a random person who walked in off the street, but it was a perfect example of the amazing Thai culture that has made me feel so at home in this amazing country.

If you have the opportunity, I would definitely recommend you check out Monthians’s work – you can find more information on his Facebook page.image

What are the most standout unplanned experiences you’ve had while travelling? How has a mix-up led to one of the most interesting nights of your life?  

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imageAfter a few days in Krabi, I started getting itchy feet and was keen to explore somewhere new – Phuket was close by and happened to have an Emirates office, which I needed to reorganise my flights so the decision was made, so after waving my goodbyes I headed out on the open road again. I was intrigued by Phuket, I had heard so much about it, but often far. Ore negativity than positive comments. Actually many people had recommended I skip it altogether, but I was keen to see and judge it for myself. After a bit of background reading, I realised I couldn’t stand the thought of staying in Patong or the other beaches like Karon, so I chose to stay at Phuket Backpacker in Phuket Town. This was the best decision I could have made, the hostel was great – really welcoming and cheap. It was also right in the centre of everything with the market right across the road, bars, restaurants and massage parlours lining the streets. It was also in a great position for exploring the rest of the town including a collection of local temples and shrines, the old town and Khao San.imageimageThe town has a lovely bohemian feel which was really perfect for me after weeks of being on the islands. It was such a different atmosphere and was definitely far more Thai than other areas I have been which was brilliant. I feel like I really had an opportunity to spend more time with the locals and seeing how they live rather than being constantly surrounded by backpackers and tourists. If you want to see more of the Thai way of life then Phuket Town is for you. My favourite thing about the area was the countless coffee shops and cafés which provided me with the perfect places to sit and enjoy my time there, particularly catching up with emails and blogging. After being on the islands and having such awful wifi in so many places, this was a great place for catching up with home and was actually the first time I had spoken directly to family and friends for about a month!imageI would spend my days exploring the town, heading to Karon on the bus if I fancied a day at the beach, or chilling in cafes and writing. It was heaven. There was so much to do in the town and I was even lucky enough to find out two other travel bloggers (Jules and Christine of Don’t Forget To Move) were in town so it was a great opportunity to meet for drinks and a night of singing along to Thai cover bands, raiding the big weekend market and exploring the area. These guys and a couple of others were the only backpackers I really spent time with which was nice, after a busy few weeks it was great to have some quiet time to myself inbetween hanging out. Can you believe a solo traveller was desperate for time alone? I really had missed writing and it was great to have some time to do more of it. It was also a really interesting way of meeting expats – I met a couple of guys in the coffee shops who actually lived in Phuket after moving here a few years ago. They were working remotely from the coffee shops at their own pace and it looked like a pretty good way to live your life.imageI was surprised how much I actually enjoyed Phuket Town, but I would really recommend it after being there. Perhaps the other parts of Phuket are a lot more tourist and seedy, but this is a great way to spend time with locals and to experience a different side to Thailand. I found it a far more welcoming place than Bangkok, which although a fantastic experience, was a little much to take in. Phuket has a slower pace and a more relaxed atmosphere which is refreshing, it takes the best elements from the busier places and blends it with the peaceful and chilled attitude of the islands.

imageimageI enjoyed Phuket Town so much that I can’t fit all my experiences into one post so I have two more coming up for you guys on what I got up to there. These are just my first impressions of the place. As for recommendations of where to go and what to eat, I would definitely say stay at Phuket Backpacker in Ranong Road as some friends stayed elsewhere and had to walk a distance every time they wanted to do anything – my hostel was right in the centre and cost just 250 a night. If you stay there, you simply MUST try the mango sticky rice on sale at the stall at the entrance to the market across the road – it is easily the best I have had yet in Thailand and I have to admit I ate two portions in one day! For the best breakfast, coffee shop and place to catch up with your emails or blogging, The Gallery cafe is right around the corner and the food is delicious, the walls are full of art and it is never busy which is perfect if you want some peace and quiet. Also, don’t miss out on a walk around the Old Town, the buildings are beautiful and definitely worth a look, it is just one street behind the market.

What were your experiences of Phuket like? How does Phuket Town compare to Patong?

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It was a hot and sweaty climb down the steep steps with my bag, followed by a breezy longtail boat ride from Railey before I reached Krabi town. I couldn’t wait to dump my bags at the hostel and to finally see it after hearing so much about it from other travellers. I was staying at Pak Up Hostel, which Lonely Planet has dubbed as one of the best in Thailand and apparently much of Asia according to those staying there. In fact, as I strolled up the hill towards the hostel, an American guy shouted across the street and invited me to join a group going back to Railey but as I’d just arrived he recommended staying at this very hostel. When I arrived, I was pleased to be shown straight to the English Room, where I stayed in the Leicester Square bunk – making me feel right at home. It was just 250 a night, which was a welcome relief after paying 800 a night in Railey and finding everything so expensive there.

I don’t normally focus too much on where I stay, just a passing recommendation for you guys, but this time the hostel was more than worth it. The cleanest, comfiest beds I have slept in, and Pak Up boasted the most welcoming and friendly staff who will help with anything you need, especially saving you money and time. I was touched to see how they became really fond of us and chatted every time we passed through reception, remembering our names and everything we had told them – little things like that make a really big difference. I was really impressed with how clean not only the dorms but the bathrooms, showers and toilets were as well, with hot showers! My first hot showers since Bangkok!

Minutes after arriving, I became instantly really good mates with everyone in my dorm and from several others along the hall. We made plans to eat dinner together and to have drinks in the evening which was great. I headed out exploring but realised there wasn’t much to see in the immediate town, that you did need bikes or a bus, but it was interesting to walk around a town instead of a seaside resort after weeks on the islands. Quite refreshing actually. The town itself has a really nice relaxed atmosphere and is a perfect place to stay if you want to explore the area with cheap travel to Railey, Ao Nang, Koh Phi Phi and a few other places. There are loads of coffee shops and restaurants to sit in and watch the world go by while you catch up with emails or a good book.image

After an afternoon exploring, I met up with everyone from the dorms and we went down to the night market which was just at the end of the street and was full of amazing, fresh food being prepared right in front of you. I loved the spring rolls, the coconut balls, the pad Thai, the basil fried rice and the satay chicken. The whole area came alive in the evening as everyone headed down to the dock to feed up and browse the stalls. I particularly enjoyed watching an old Thai man, he must have been around 70 years old and yet he could cook quicker than anyone on the other stalls – he was brilliant to watch. We had a lovely first evening filling up on food, then headed back to the hostel to sit out on the porch chatting and drinking a disgusting rice wine called Siamsato that two of my new friends recommended.

The next day, one of my new friends and I hired a motorcycle and headed out on an adventure to explore a nearby national park. We had wanted to check out the tiger temple, but it was too hot to climb 1300 steps so we went waterfall hunting instead. I trusted him to ride the bike as I knew he had several at home and was good with them, but it was still a nerve-wracking drive to the park. I’m not a very good passenger as I am so used to always being the driver. But we made it in one piece and the park was beautiful, we trekked up a steep climb to the top of the waterfall where we jumped in and stood under the torrent of water. It was a perfect way to cool off and later we wandered around the park, breathing in a bit of nature and spotting amazing trees.

That night, the Pak Up family got together and I was joined by a whole group of new dorm mates – one who brought along a ukulele and sang Jack Johnson songs and classic nineties hits all night for us, plus another awesome doing he had written himself and was due to release soon. We sat out on the porch for a fun night of drinks and singing along, and were joined by a random Thai guy from the street who wanted us all to try his opium cigarettes and was convinced he was Captain Jack Sparrow! We all had so much fun I was convinced to stab another night despite my original plans to move on to Phuket Town the next day. The next day, two of us went on a day trip to Ao Nang on the bike and had a lazy one on the beach and driving around. I was glad I didn’t end up staying in Ao Nang like I had planned beforehand, it was way too touristy for my tastes and the high numbers of older German gentlemen flaunting themselves in tiny speedos was not something I want to wake up to each morning.image

Our final night together was a celebration – we were all heading off either the next day, or shortly after to our next destinations, so it was good to have a final send off for the travelling family. I was surprised, considering how little time I was in Krabi, how attached I became to the place, and to the people. For a place that has only a small amount of attractions and sights to offer the traveller, it is well worth stopping off for a while. If only to meet some of the most amazing and interesting travellers I have met yet. Plus a chance to stay in this fantastic hostel can never be passed up for that price! I was sad to say goodbye to my friends, but excited to start my journey to Phuket Town for a completely different experience.

Have you stayed at Pak Up Hostel – what did you think? Did you love Krabi like I did?

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