Recently I’ve been meeting lots of people heading off to Thailand and South East Asia, and a lot of them don’t have a clue what’s in store for them so here’s our places to go, and places to avoid in Thailand.
Bangkok – Unavoidable really, you’re almost guaranteed to fly in here (especially from Europe). My advice, get out within three days maximum, while Bangkok is a magically different world to western Europe, and well anywhere that’s not Asia, it’s also a filthy stinking hole for overpriced rubbish and rip-off merchants. It’s hard to find anything you can trust, especially around Koh San Road, so get out quickly, preferably from one of the government bus stations so your bags don’t get robbed in transit. Try to see some of the impressive sights before you go, Grand Palace, Wat Pho and Wat Arun are worth a look.
Pattaya – Good for ‘Lads on Tour’ and sex tourists. There is a few fun things to hit down here, including the Skydive centre, but other than that, I say swerve!
Chiang Mai – Absolutely yes, the rich Ex-pat community and the relatively small size of the city centre makes it easily manageable, and palatable for those still finding their feet in SE Asia. Pretty decent western food, and a great area for nightlife (check out Zoe corner) mean this town attracts a lot of the backpackers, and now has some excellent hostels that get you meeting and mingling. There’s also the wonderful night market and plenty of almost authentic local food and stores. Plus it’s about half the price of Bangkok!
Pai – Unmissable, the hippy vibe, the Thai inventiveness and the positive attitude make this town a lovely place to hang up the flip-flops and chill out for some time. Live music somewhere every night, late nights in Bamboo Bar, copious amounts of reggae (and weed) that accompany the Thai Rastas, and awesome little hot springs and day trips available to all those brave enough to take on the roads with a Moped. Stay at Spicy Pai for a really inclusive and enjoyable experience.
Ranong – Skip it unless you’re doing the visa run into Myanmar
Chumphon – The gateway to the Eastern Islands, not much to see or do here
Koh Toa – Diving, Diving, Diving! Then partying and beaches. One of my favourites, this island has a good party scene, without resorting to tacky gimmicks. There’s the typical fire jump rope and poi displays, but generally less obstructive than those on some of the other islands. If you’re willing to get away from the party beach, there’s some absolute treats where you can waste away the time sunbathing and swimming in the pristine ocean.
Koh Pha Ngan – The infamous Full Moon Party island. This is almost a rite of passage these days, and missing it while in Thailand is a traveler sin. Sure it’s basically just a load of westerners getting drunk on a beach on dodgy Thai alcohol but how often are there 50,000 of them? There’s also some nice bits to see on the island – the wipeout lake is a great way to spend an afternoon, as is the quad biking. Avoid the Elephant treks and Zoo, they’re not good places for the animals, so until they improve, please don’t support them. Take a boat trip out to the Ang Thong Marine Park for an excellent day kayaking and climbing.
Koh Samui – The last island of the three is turning slowly into Tenerife (or any of the other Mediterranean party islands) with nice family accommodation along the beach front, lots of family friendly beach activities and sports. Then as you head closer to the centre, the hotels get pricier, and the standards get lower. Fast food chains, nasty nightclubs and PR people make you feel right at home, finally, at the epicentre is the home of the prostitute bars. Officially waitresses they will fetch your drinks then drink them with you, flirting until you’re drunk enough to take them home. Not a place we’d stay for long
Krabi – Split into three areas, Krabi town, Ao Nang beach and Railay beach. The town has a few interesting stops including a nice backpackers, but really hasn’t got anything more than beds for the night on offer. The beaches however are lovely places to relax, chilled out areas that most backpackers skip, so not so much of a party scene, but there’s still some cool bars to spend time in. Railay beach is also famous for it’s climbing, rock climbing and deep water solo climbing is very popular here, and well worth a try.
Koh Phi Phi – Pronounced Pee Pee, this island basically sums up all of the others as far as the Thai islands go, there’s some gorgeous beaches, and some jungle to explore, there’s also gimmicky party bars, loud club music until late at night, terrible tattoo shops, plenty of recreational drug use, and a really disgusting beach (which is inexplicably the most popular on the island). It’s really got a bit of everything, but what we really like was the lack of roads, which means no need for a moped, and no drunken bike accidents. If you’re staying at a fancy resort though don’t worry, a porter with a giant wheelbarrow will happily take your bags. It’s a yes from us, because it’s just good fun, without the seediness of Pattaya or Phuket. If you’re there, make sure you head to Banana Bar up on the roof, and have a laugh at the idiots trying to fight at the Reggae Bar.
Phuket – Avoid! Apparently there are some nice spots, but with the centre looking like it does, a seething mass of drug addled thieves, drunken western tourists and prostitutes it wasn’t somewhere to stay for long.
This was originally going to be all of SE Asia, but there’s too many words already. We hope you find this helpful in planning your trips!