Hey everyone.

Gosh, I can’t believe we’ve been back over 2 months and I’m only just publishing the last instalment of our Thailand Diaries! It was such a long and amazing trip packed full of adventure it has taken me many, many posts to get it all down! So let’s pick up where I left off and wrap up this journey..

So after spending a week and a half exploring the bustling cities of the north and sweating and swatting mozzies in the jungle we wanted a bit of horizontal beach time. Luckily, if you are looking for white sand, blue sea paradise, Thailand has a lot to choose from! We decided to stick to the west side this time, mainly because the East tends to have a lot of monsoons at that time of year and also because I have already been to the East side and fancied trying something different. We visited two beach resorts in all, staying four or five days in each; Railay Beach and Ko Lanta. Each was extremely beautiful in it’s own way and each had it’s relative merits and not-so-great things, which I’m going to talk you through now.

Railay Beach

Totally cut off from the mainland and only accessible by long tail boat, Railay beach is often hailed as one of the most beautiful and unspoilt beaches in the world. As if the golden sand and glittering ocean wasn’t enough; the beach is flanked by rugged cliffs which make it look like something out of a movie. There are no cars, no ferries and you certainly can’t fly there so actually getting there is a bit of a mission but certainly an experience. Once we arrived in Krabi we took a mini bus to Ao Nang and then took one of the many waiting long tail boats to Railay Beach. As we raced across the sea we couldn’t quite believe how beautiful it was.

First and foremost

I can’t stress this enough, you need to be sensible with your luggage. The long tail boats stop just shy of the shore and you will need to wade in water about up to your knees to get onto the beach. The guys who drove the boats will quite literally chuck your luggage onto the sand. Although it is all part of the experience, I would recommend leaving your Louis Vuitton suitcase set at home.

East vs West

For a small resort there are a lot of places to stay and they are divided between Railay West and Railay East. Although you may imagine that the opposite sides of the peninsula might be a long way apart, in reality it is a 10 minute walk between the two. The main beach is Railay West – so if one of the tip-top luxury hotels there are within your budget then knock yourself out! We decided to stay on the East side however, due to the hotels being more affordable and it having more of a ‘backpacker scene’. In reality, the resorts in Railay East actually have an amazing outlook because they look out onto the unspoilt ocean without any boats or interruptions (as most of the longtails come into the West side), but you need to be aware that there isn’t technically a beach on the East side. To break it down: for luxury resorts, classier restaurants and to be right on the beach – go West, for chilled beach bars, live music and rustic beach huts – East is a winner.

Pros and Cons

The pros are definitely the stunning beach and the lack of vehicles and ferries to spoil it. That’s not to say that the beach isn’t busy though – it seriously is. In fact you’d be hard pushed to find a beach in Thailand which is as yet ‘undiscovered’ by tourism. Other brilliant things about Railay: seeing crazy monkeys up close (don’t take food near them!), amazing rock climbing experiences for all levels and the best mango smoothie I’ve ever had. There are a few cons – the busyness I mentioned earlier: the longtails bring in a lot of day-trippers so the peak time on the beach is BUSY. We also tried a lot of restaurants there and didn’t find the food to be amazing compared to other places in Thailand – particularly in the beach front places.

Do Not Miss!

A snorkelling trip to see the bio-luminescent plankton (as seen in the movie The Beach)! We did a day-to-night boat trip where they took us to islands and snorkelling spots in the afternoon but to be honest we could have taken or left that bit, it wasn’t amazing. The night snorkel with the plankton though is an absolute must! As you move underwater the water around you literally lights up and glitters. Truly incredible.

Verdict

Other than the slightly disappointment of the food, Railay Beach is a beautiful place to visit and I would thoroughly recommend it.

Ko Lanta

After the busyness of Railay we headed over water to the nearby island of Ko Lanta for four nights. Lanta has a more family friendly reputation and is considered less of a ‘party’ place. It’s very built up and outside of the beaches it has every local amentity, shop, bar or restauarant you could want. There are a few main beaches, all of them are long, wide and safe for families. It’s also popular to rent a bike to explore the island as the roads are pretty bike friendly compared to the rest of Thailand! People flock to Lanta for relaxing beach holidays, swimming, snorkelling and authentic Thai food.

The Low-Down on the Beaches

For an island, Ko Lanta is actually quite big and it has several large beaches all with their own resrots ranging from luxury to budget. There are even some budget guest houses situated off the beaches on the main road that runs all the way through the island. Although you’re never far from a beach, I wouldn’t recommend staying in these. The main road is hideously busy, dusty and, in places, dirty. There are plenty of super cheap places to stay on the coast so stick with a beach front resort or guesthouse.  We stayed in the beachfront bungalow and very budget resort of Rann Chalet in Klong Dao beach. The resort comprised of tiny bungalows which were quite cute and served their purpose but not overly comfortable! We didn’t love our beach either; Klong Dao is one of the main beaches and it’s a bit dirty and rocky which makes it not great for swimming. Also, the choice of restaurants and bars was not that great. We visited the next beach down; Long Beach, and that was by far our favourite. It’s clean, much more beautiful and is lined with trendy beach bars and lovely Thai seafood restaurants. If we went again we would definitely choose Long Beach.

Must-Do’s

We really wanted to take a trip to Ko Rok island, a tiny island off Lanta famous for it’s crystal waters and amazing coral and snorkelling opportunities. We chose to go with a slightly more ‘luxury’ company (although still not expensive compared to the UK) – Opal Travel. I cannot recommend them highly enough! We had a wonderful day on their lovely boat exploring the island and doing some amazing snorkelling. You can check out a video I made of our snorkelling adventure here.

Verdict

We loved the vibe in Ko Lanta but we wouldn’t stay in Klong Dao or that particular resort again! For a luxury beach break it would be a beautiful and relaxing place to visit.

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I hope you enjoyed my Thailand Diaries or perhaps might find it helpful if you are planning a trip to Thailand! Have you been to either of these places before?

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So, here’s the next installment of my ‘Thailand Diaries’ series – our trip to the jungle! It seems like such a long time ago since we got back it’s really lovely to look through all the photos again and relive the memories!

We decided to visit Khao Sok on a bit of a whim. It’s not really on what you would consider the main tourist routes and not that many people have heard of it. However, we got the idea from our Lonely Planet ‘Ultimate Travel Book’ (which details some of the most beautiful places in the world) – and once we’d looked it up online we were sold! We knew we had to go, it was truly stunning.

We thought it was going to be a bit of a headache to get to and it certainly wasn’t as well connected as the other more ‘mainstream’ places we went to – but it definitely wasn’t as difficult as we envisaged. Khao Sok National Park is reachable by minibus from both Krabi and Phuket if you want to fly in (a few hours drive) or from Surat Thani which is the main rail station in the area. We caught the overnight sleeper train from Bangkok which is 14 hours and really not as bad as it sounds! We paid a little extra (£30 each at the most!) to have First Class which gets you a private lockable cabin and pretty comfortable beds. The train leaves Bangkok in the evening and you wake up in Surat Thani early morning! We found it remarkably simple.  TIP: don’t make the mistake of leaving train bookings too late. Thailand rail are yet to get on board with an online booking system so you need to pay a travel agency in Bangkok to physically get them from the station for you in advanced, and you pick them up when you arrive. We used 12Go Asia who were fantastic and efficient from start to finish.

Anyway, we turned up at Surat Thani station at 5am on Christmas Day slightly concerned we had no onward travel booked and imagining we may have to wait a while for the first bus of the day. We needn’t had worried! Even at that time the station was packed with locals offering taxis, mini vans services and breakfast. We only had to pay 150 baht for the 1hr30 drive to the national park.

Once we had actually got there we needed to locate our hotel – ‘Our Jungle House’, which was located right next to the national park entrance and it pretty well hidden! It was worth the trek to find it though. This beautiful, secluded hotel is right in the heart of the jungle and it’s made up of a series of beautiful rustic treehouse rooms and a quaint wooden building with a restaurant and bar. In the day it was tranquil and relaxing and at night it wasn’t! It was so amazing to be so close to the wildlife and hear the monkeys running about on our roof!!

During our short two nights in the National Park we went on two trips and enjoyed a delicious Thai ‘Christmas buffet’ which was served at the hotel! The rest of the time we went on a few (short) self guided hikes and just soaked up the true wonder of nature. After the madness of Bangkok, Khao Sok is the perfect antidote. The first trip we went on was on Christmas day which was a short excursion to a natural hot springs in the hills. It is popular with both local people and tourists, but luckily the tour operators at our hotel pre-empted this and took us earlier in the day which meant that we missed the hoards and had the place virtually to ourselves.

On Boxing Day we went into the national park on a day trip to the famous Cheow Lan Lake. If you’ve every seen any wildlife or tourism documentaries about Thailand; this lake will be in it. It was absolutely breath-taking and one of the highlights of our trip. Most of the trip was spent relaxing and swimming by the lake, but it also included an hours wildlife spotting hike and a trip to the limestone caves. I’ve always thought of myself as a beach person but this lake was probably more beautiful than any beach I’ve ever seen. The water was like glass and the backdrop was simply amazing. We were lucky enough to have brilliant sunshine that day – but during our afternoon we saw a 30 second rainstorm! It was incredible, literally passed over us in less than an minute and then it was gone.


For more information on where we stayed you can click here. I loved Our Jungle House but if we were ever to go back to Khao Sok I would LOVE to stay on one of the floating bungalows you can rent on the lake. Imagine waking up to that view each day! We had an incredible experience in the jungle, so different from any other holiday we have ever been on! We would have loved to have stayed longer, but I can’t say that we are particularly natural intrepid explorers! We never ventured far on our hikes for fear of getting lost! There are A LOT of creepy crawlies in the jungle so be sure to take some spray and watch out for the mosquitos.  Next time, we move on to the blissful beaches of the South!

Bangkok. Omg, what can I say? Where else in the world can you find a beautiful Buddhist temple down the road from a bar trying to sell you a live lady-boy sex show?! Where else can you eat the best street food of your life for 50p and then get ripped off buying a scorpion on a stick that tastes like Frazzles?! It’s crazy, it’s busy, it’s hot. It’s worth a visit in my opinion, but you need no more than 2 days here. By the morning of our third we were ready to get the hell out!

Here is my definitive guide to the best bits of Bangkok all squeezed in to short space of time.

What to see

You’ve got to join the rat race and go and see all the temples in the city centre, you just can’t not. If you go to Bangkok and don’t get a picture of the Grand Palace then you basically didn’t go. They are busy, but they are equally beautiful. The main temples; Wat Phra Kaew (the Grand Palace complex), Wat Pho (the Temple of the Reclining Buddha) and Wat Arun (the Temple of Dawn) are all easily accessible by the river ferries or by foot. The most expensive entry fee is the Grand Palace which costs 500 baht (roughly £10) and the other two are around half that.

The Grand Palace

The Grand Palace

Wat Pho

We also visiting the Golden Mount which is a slight walk out of town but still easily reached on foot from the city. I would thoroughly recommend this because firstly, it’s a beautiful building and really relaxed and less busy than the main temples and secondly, when you get to the top you get this jaw dropping view of the Bangkok city skyline. Trust me, Bangkok is a lot more beautiful from up here than it is up close! It is also a very small fee to get up there – literally next to nothing.

TIP: Go early, or late. Bangkok is HOT and there are several hundred stairs to get to the top of the monument. It is a fairly gentle climb though and suitable for those with moderate fitness.

What to do

Other than sightseeing there is not a huge amount to do in Bangkok that doesn’t involve shopping, drinking or sex shows (sorry to lower the tone!) We actually didn’t end up going to any of the ‘special shows’, we had heard bad things about getting scammed for huge entry fees or expensive drinks, but a lot of people will be of the opinion that when in Bangkok – you’ve got to see what it’s famous for! There is no shortage of tuk tuk drivers all too happy to take you to a ‘ping pong show’!!

Shopping and night life wise I would recommend the ‘Khao San Road’ – a street in central Bangkok which is backpackers and hostel heaven. We stayed here – more on that later – but even if you don’t it’s definitely worth a visit. The market stalls sell good quality boho/hippy style clothing and jewellery which you can barter down. Never accept their first price! It’s always a rip off. We also spent one evening in a really nice rooftop bar on this road which had an excellent live band. If you like a drink (not saying that we do but.. we do) it’s more cost effective to buy the famous Thai ‘buckets’ which are literally buckets of alcohol and mixer. Let’s just say you get a lot of spirit for your money.

Something else I would recommend in Bangkok if you’ve got a free evening and fancy a night away from the craziness is an evening river cruise with dinner. There are lots of good deals about – including excellent food and drink options. Bangkok is seriously beautiful all lit up at night. The cruises start in the modern ‘skyscraper’ hotel district and head up river to see all the temples in their illuminated glory. TIP: do your research! We had a lovely traditional boat cruise with authentic Thai food (you can view our cruise company here) but we did see some Ibiza-fantastic party boats which looked like they might be best avoided.

View from the Loy Nava River Cruise

Where to stay

If, like us, you want to get in the thick of things and experience Bangkok at it’s craziest then the Khao San Road is the place for you. It’s a road dedicated to backpackers and their drinking habits. We spent two fun evenings here but honestly, we wouldn’t stay there again. The hotel come guesthouse we stayed in was good value and did the job but it was so loud at night. The main thing that annoyed me about the Khao San Road was that you couldn’t even step out of your accommodation for a coffee without getting hounded by tuk-tuk drivers offering you a ‘best price tour of the city.’ TIP: this is not genuine and NOT best price.

Of course, there are some high-rise, modern things of beauty where you can stay for a fee.  Most of these hotels are located on the riverside in the ‘Bangrak’ district and offer their own ferry shuttles to the town centre. If you have a bit more cash to burn and are looking for something a bit more swanky you will have a variety of options in this area.

What to eat

Authentic Thai food is INCREDIBLE. My advice for Bangkok. Eat and eat lots. If, like most tourists, you are heading southwards to the islands next, I’m sorry to tell you the food only goes downhill from here! The food in Bangkok is cheap and mostly delicious. And the street food is some of the best we had in Thailand. The Pad Thai stalls on the Khao San Road sold the best Pad Thai we had during our stay. And don’t worry about hygiene when eating street food, trust me; we only got sick once during our whole stay and it was from a pizza in an upmarket restaurant! Fill up on the good stuff in Bangkok and try new things. Even bugs and scorpions if you fancy it!

What to avoid

It sounds horrible but avoid anyone who seems like they are trying to help you! Any friendly local who wants to ‘show you the city’, ‘give you directions’ or assist you in anyway, 99% of the time they are trying to get money out of you! Know where you are going in advance and NEVER take your map out in public! You will be swarmed with ‘help’. Also, anyone who tells you the Grand Palace or some other famous attraction you are heading to is closed just carry on they are LYING to try and get you to go somewhere else with them. We saw so many people falling for this one and it’s the oldest scam in the book! Also avoid; Western food (unless it’s in an extremely high end restaurant), tuk-tuks (rip you off! Take metered taxis instead and pay half the price) or any offers of ‘free drinks’.

Extra bits

It’s humid. All the time. Bear this in mind when packing.

Avoid the cats and dogs no matter how cute they are, you don’t know where they’ve been.

Always make sure you have cash when haggling for goods/transport. If you negotiate them down to 100 baht and then try to pay with a 500 note they are unlikely to give you the correct change!

When visiting the temples, make sure you wear long trousers (ladies and gents) and ladies cover your shoulders. It’s not the end of the world if you forget; but better to take your own than be forced to wear one of these sexy numbers:

Planning a whistle-stop stay in Bangkok can seem a bit daunting, so I hope some people might find this guide useful! Enjoy yourself – there’s no where else quite like it!

Until next time,

 

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Hi everyone! We have arrived back in London safe and sound after our three weeks away! A three week holiday was so amazing and felt like we had been away for so long! We were so lucky to have the opportunity to do everything that we did and we had some truly incredible experiences and have made some memories for life.

Continuing with our Thailand Diaries, today I’m going to tell you about one of my favourite things we did from the entire trip; going to visit an elephant sanctuary. I have been to Thailand before and although I was mostly keen to try new things, I knew I wanted to stick with the elephant park I went to last time. It was so amazing and they treated their elephants so well I thought it would be silly to try and find another which was as good.

Baan Chang Elephant Park means ‘Home of the Elephants’ (Baan meaning home and Chang meaning elephant) in Thai. They pride themselves on reducing elephants from the logging industry and from the cruel ‘shows’ which unfortunately still go on in parts of Thailand. These elephants would not be able to be released into the wild as they are too tame, but they give them a home and look after them very well. All the elephants have a ‘mahout’: a Thai man who stays with them and builds a relationship with them and teaches them basic commands.

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Our day with the elephants was one of, if not the, most memorable experiences of the entire trip.  They are truly majestic creatures and so much bigger than you could ever imagine in real life! It was a real honour to spend the day helping to look after them.  In the morning we were introduced to some of the elephants and were able to feed them their ‘morning snack’ – about 3 baskets full of bananas and sugar cane each! I had no idea how much elephants need to eat!  This was great fun because they are so cheeky particularly the younger ones, stealing food out of our hands that was meant for other elephants and so on.  They really are playful animals and have got a real personality of their own!

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After lunch we had the opportunity to ride our elephant which we had been looking after. I know this is a bit of a controversial topic and some people don’t agree with it but at Baan Chang they don’t use cages, seats or any kind of contraption for the visitors to ride the elephants; we sat on them bare back and went on a short trek which was their daily exercise. The park maintain that in traditional Thai culture an elephant is looked after by his mahout friend for his whole life and he will carry him around on his back without any trouble, therefore they do not mind being ridden as long as it is not using chairs or cages which hurt their skin. Riding this huge creature through the jungle was amazing and I felt like we really got close to our elephant and developed a bond of trust – although it was scary at first!

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The last part of the day was definitely the best; bathing our elephant in the lake! This was a beautiful experience. The elephants love it! We each were given a bucket and scrubbing brush and as we brushed them with the water they laid down on their side and kicked about playing like children!! Then they started squirting their trunks everywhere! It was hilarious and something I will never forget.

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If you are visiting Chiang Mai I would thoroughly recommend the Baan Chang Elephant park for your elephant experience. In my opinion they get the right balance of education and fun! Definitely one to tick off the bucket list. Although I could do it again and again!

Look out for my next Thailand Diaries – when we move on to the bright lights of Bangkok!

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Our trip to Thailand. 3 weeks, 5 locations, 6 flights, 2 sleeper trains and countless buses. So many experiences, memories and photos! In this post I’m going to share my favourite experiences with you through the photos we took.

1. Wat Pho – Bangkok city centre.

Bangkok is a tourist carousel and the temples (Wat’s in Thai) are all part of it. The Grand Palace is beautiful, sure, but it costs £10 for entry per person and is absolutely heaving with tourists. Wat Pho is the Grand Palace’s less popular baby brother; situated just behind and equally as impressive and glittering. It also costs less than £5 entry so great if you are on a shoestring. The reclining golden Buddha is one of the most incredible man-made wonders I have seen.

2. Thai Farm Cooking School – Chiang Mai.

Getting out of the city to visit this tranquil organic farm, picking out ingredients and cooking up authentic Thai dishes was a pretty wonderful day. Read my full review here.

3. Sunday Night Market – Chiang Mai

Market doesn’t really cover it to be honest. We spent 3 hours wandering through this and didn’t even cover a small percentage of it! It is seriously huge and very, very busy; but with an amazing atmosphere and full of beautiful hand crafted items and Thai products. The majority of ‘markets’ in Thailand are packed full of fake Ray Bans and toy elephants so this market is a real breath of fresh and every stall is different. TIP: go early to avoid getting crushed in the crowd!

4. Baan Chang Elephant Park – Chiang Mai

Not only one of the best experiences  of my trip but one of the best experiences of my life! Spending the day with this beautiful, magnificent creatures was a genuine honour. They are gentle giants. The park takes great care of them and takes pride in educating the tourists who visit about the elephants and their behaviour and lives. Getting the bathe the elephants was the best part and this picture is of me getting caught up in a trunk spray war!

5. Cheow Lan Lake – Khao Sok National Park

It was so hard to choose a photograph from these few days. The park is truly stunning and there were a million photos to choose from. Everything from hiking to waterfalls, amazing views and the beautiful lake which we swam in. This photo is me enjoying a hot rain storm which literally came and went in 3 minutes! Incredible.

6. Snorkelling at Ko Rok – Ko Lanta

I love the water especially when it’s crystal clear blue like the sea at Ko Rok! A tiny, uninhabited island off Ko Lanta surrounded by corals and tropical fish. We even saw Nemo!

7. View point – Koh Phi Phi

A longggg hike up there in the sweaty humidity but the view was so worth it. Koh Phi Phi is paradise.

8. Monkey army – Railay beach

Railay is mostly a relaxed and chilled out place – other than their tribes of criminal monkeys of course! Luckily we didn’t lose our phones or camera to them, but we saw several people lose their dinner! It’s amazing to watch their behaviour so close. They have learnt that if the babies distract the humans the grown ups can sneak up behind and nick the goods! Incredible to witness.

9. Railay Beach – Krabi Province

Although this beach is a bit busy do my liking there is no escaping the fact that it is absolutely drop dead stunning. The limestone cliffs shield it giving a totally unobstructed view and meaning it is only accessible by long tail boat! Not to mention the powdery white sand and crystal clear water. Pure paradise.

10. Sunset at Phra Nang beach – Krabi Province

Railay beach’s baby brother and home to the ‘happy rock’, in the day time I would say this beach is over rated. Packed full of day trippers to the point where there is no where to put your towel and a lot of ‘snack boats’ turn up at lunch time to feed the ravenous tourists. However, at sunset, when everyone has gone; it is truly spectacular.

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I hope you enjoyed these photos and that I may have persuaded you to visit my favourite country in the world (so far!!). If you would like to see more keep an eye on my ‘Thailand diaries’ travel series or check out our Instagram page!