List of Do’s and Don’t’s Travelling Thailand

Yeah I’m still a virgin traveller, but from just one month stay in Thailand, there’s a lot of lessons I’ve learned and either regretted, or enjoyed being proven wrong about my assumptions. For other people looking to travel Thailand, some of this may come as a surprise to you.

So here’s a list of things for my final blog entry you may not think about travelling the first time. Not finite by any means, but stuff I’ve picked up on my way through Thailand.

Transport in Thailand

Bikes
I hired a bike in 3 places, Krabi, Hua Hin and Chiang Mai. Easily the most practical way of getting about, and likely the cheapest in the long run. It’s not, however, the place to learn to ride a motorbike. In the more sedate areas then you should have no problem, but in the built up areas driving can be a perilous affair. I learned how to ride in Thailand, though I’ve ridden a BMX through hectic London streets. Make sure you know what’s around you.. mirrors should be positioned correctly on left and right to see what’s behind you, look around often but pay attention to the road in front and behind.

When hiring a bike, you may be asked for your passport, ALWAYS refuse. If you’re afraid of offending then tell them if you get caught by the police without your passport you can be arrested – this is the truth, always carry ID with you for this reason. The alternative then, unless you get a friendly bike rental place, is to hand over a copy of your passport and a deposit (usually 2,000 Baht to 6,000 Baht depending on the type of bike).

Take photos of the bike from all angles, mostly those which could potentially be scratched, if you return your bike scratched you could lose some, or all of your deposit. The first bike I hired I handed over my passport, the second only a copy (though this was because my friend who lives in Thailand and can speak the language, and knows them), the third a copy and 3,000 Baht deposit.

You will get your bike without much fuel, you will not get a refund for excess fuel on return, nor are you expected to refuel the bike when returning it. Wear a helmet! If they don’t offer you a helmet with the bike then refuse the hire, helmets are mandatory, though you will see a lot of Thai’s not wearing theirs. A helmet can save your life in an accident.

Most of all remember that Thailand will usually be more dangerous than your own country, there’s a lot of drivers, no MOT system, a non-mandatory insurance system, and drink drivers. A lot of foreign tourists are involved in fatal accidents each year in Thailand, so don’t be blasé about it, take this seriously and you should find riding a motorbike in Thailand a pleasure and offering a lot of freedom.

Rental bike prices vary by type and how modern they are, from around 150 Baht to 450 per day, if you book a chunk of time you’ll find you can barter down the price. To fill up a bike with petrol also varies by petrol station, but more often than not I paid 110 Baht to fill up an empty tank, 120 was the most I paid. This tank will last around 90-100km

Trains
I took 4 long journey trains in Thailand, from Bangkok to Surat Thani and return, from Bangkok to Chiang Mai and return. The trains operate a sleeper system, if you book far in advance (and I suggest you don’t turn up expecting a train not to be full) you can secure a sleeping ticket. On my travels I didn’t book in advance, so I only managed to secure a sleeper ticket once, 2nd class. The other times were in 2nd class seating and 3rd class seating.

On public transport I’m a very bad sleeper in a seat, on the sleeper bed I slept very well, I have no objection to sitting on a train for 13-17 hours, but the first train in 3rd class seating was dark the entire journey, so I couldn’t photograph until sunrise around 7. Had it been light I would have had a whale of a time. For this reason I’ll book in advance next time, if there’s no sleeping then I’ll take a seat on a morning train and photograph the journey.

The trains are noisy, when the windows are open you get some air pollution in certain areas. If you’re a light sleeper I’d recommend tablets, eye pads and ear plugs if you need. I would also recommend bringing a blanket or wearing layers if you’re in a seat, the wind can get quite cold if you’re in the wrong place, and even shutting the windows and blinds may not reduce the wind in your direction.

Prices can vary depending on the seat and the journey, there’s a really good website that I refer to before travelling, Seat61.com which has extensive pricing and timetables for throughout Thailand. I paid: 250 Baht from Bangkok to Surat Thani 3rd class seat, 598 Baht from Surat Thani to Bangkok 2nd class sleeper, 431 Baht from Bangkok to Chiang Mai 2nd class seat 270 baht from Chiang Mai to Bangkok 3rd class seat.

In the seated accommodation you’ll get food and drink hawkers, beer and cigarettes most of the journey, in the sleeping carriage you’ll see fewer. For me, as a smoker, travelling 13 or 17 hours on a train without smoking is a bit of a challenge, but on the trains in Bangkok you can smoke in the vestibules with the doors open (a really nice experience, health and safety would do their nut).

The toilets are of the squat variety, and the trains move around a lot, so if you’re a guy – lucky (unless it’s #2) and if you’re a girl then make sure you wear good grips on your shoes.

I did spot a thief picking through a bag using a radio reciever presumably to test for mobile signals. So make sure you keep all your valuables in the sleeping bay with you, and keep your wits about you. All your clothes and non-valuable items can be placed in a backpack in the luggage holder by each bay.

Taxis/Tuk Tuks and Motorbike Taxis
As a farang, or foreigner, you will immediately be charged a higher price than a local, but this is not necessarily the final price you will pay. Don’t get ripped off, there’s plenty around and if one won’t accept your price move on to the next, more often than not the driver will cave for a lower price..

The classic piece of advice is DO take a tuk tuk, but only the once, it’s an experience rather than a necessity. The other piece of advice is DON’T take a motorbike taxi, as these drivers have very little regard for your safety. Taxi’s should tell you a rough price before you depart, and turn on the meter if they have one, if they don’t turn it on, request they do, if they still refuse then you should get out and avoid being ripped off, move on to the next and be happy.

They are everywhere though, so if you need to get somewhere in a hurry then either a tuk tuk or a taxi will take you where you need to go. Be prepared to be turned away when you mention your destination, some drivers refused once I mentioned where I wanted to go.

Never pay more than 100 Baht for a tuk tuk, fair enough if you’re travelling a long distance, in any way a tuk tuk wouldn’t be the safest or fastest form of travel.

Buses
Long journey buses are usually quicker than the trains in Thailand, but more expensive, I found sleep easier on a bus than in a seat on a train, the seats tend to recline a bit lower and are of a better quality, you also don’t get much noise from the outside. For destinations such as Bangkok to Krabi Town which doesn’t have a train station, you should buy a joint ticket from the train station, that way it will save you time and energy at the staging points.

Skytrain Bangkok (BTS)
Easily the best, safest and fastest way of travelling in Bangkok, and I’d recommend booking your accommodation close to a station, as this will save on taxi or tuk tuk fares. At most you will pay 65 Baht to cross the city, at least 15 Baht to go one or two stops. It has air conditioning throughout and the ticket purchasing is simple, you will need 10 or 5 Baht coins though so you need to go to the change stations situated near the barriers after working out – using the handy priced maps near the ticket machines – how much you will need.

If you plan on staying in Bangkok for a longer time then it may be worth looking into a pass that you can top up.

Accommodation

Hotels
If you can afford to stay in hotels during your travelling, then by all means do so, hotels tend to offer better service, more amenities, more facilities and good locations. The problem is the price, if you’re on a budget then I would recommend staying in hostels or guest houses.

Most places will have a hotel though I would recommend booking in advance as they will fill up and you may not get a room if you turn up on the day. Prices don’t have to be super expensive either, my first two days I stayed in Imm Fusion Sukhumvit, a private double room for 798 Baht per night booked online. En-suite shower and toilet, refrigerator  free water, TV and nice, clean sheets, in a quiet and good location and most importantly near to a BTS line.

If you’re travelling on a two week holiday, and have a hefty budget, then you can find luxury hotels more expensive than Western prices. I used TripAdvisor throughout, combined with HostelBookers and HostelWorld to book my accommodation  as well as turning up on the day.

Hostels
Tend to be large places with many different types of room available. Dorms from 2, 4, 6, 8, 10 and even 12 beds, private rooms too. These places tend to attract backpackers, young and old and can be quite social, I met some really nice people staying in hostels throughout Thailand.

You could be charged a key and towel deposit, perhaps even rental price for the towel. Hostels can have laundry, TV rooms, male/female only dorms, bars, restaurants, lobby/sitting areas. Nearly all places have WiFi now, so you can connect with your friends and family on the move.

There will also likely be a baggage storage area and a locker for you to keep your valuable items in. Shared toilets and showers, unless you’re in a private room, either air conditioning or fan, also dependant on room type. I would recommend a fan room, as air conditioning can give you a cold when you’re in and out of hot and cold areas.

Prices vary by area, size, how modern they are, and the time of year, I paid 300 Baht per night and that was the most I paid. I also paid 270, and 220.

Guest Houses
Usually smaller than hostels, but a similar principle, offering various types of room and usually cheaper than the other options. I would recommend checking the reviews for any places your about to stay before deciding on booking, to give you an idea of what to expect.

Guest houses are a really common type of accommodation due to their size. Most will offer tour help and advice, as they usually make deals with the tour companies.

Don’t expect frills from guest houses, though it depends on the owner’s desire to make your stay nicer. Some have no towels, no western toilets and no toilet paper, they can be dirty at the low end prices, and noisy, or have insects. If you’re travelling on a budget, and aren’t squeamish if you see a cockroach, then go for a guest house because of the price.

Not usually as social due to the less people that can stay in one, though this also varies place by place. Will usually have WiFi  usually have less amenities than hostels.

Prices also vary, I’ve paid as little as 120 Baht in Chiang Mai, and as much as 400 in Bangkok.

Booking
You should try to book in advance, just on the off chance that you arrive and try to secure a room and are turned away late at night. I came with no plans to my journey, and so I couldn’t effectively (nor did I want to) plan the whole trip. I was only turned away a few times, and this was the on-season, so it’s still possible to not book ahead.

Food

Street Vendors
Late at night Thailand tends to open up – it’s less hot at night and so you’ll generally find night markets crop up every day in the towns and cities. You can get anything you want if you’re prepared to walk around. From meat to fruit, to vegetarian and vegan. Prices are lower than if you buy in a restaurant (and some things aren’t sold in restaurants. Some places may not seem appealing, it’s best to follow your instinct on these, try and get good clean food cooked in front of you, lots of fruit is sold already peeled, which could cause stomach upset depending on age.

Restaurants
Usually open all day, and you can – in the more touristy areas – find Thai and Western food alike. In certain areas like Hua Hin, there’s a lot of Westerners that have moved there and opened their own restaurant, offering authentic (note, authentic is used very often, sometimes by non-authentic chefs) Western cuisine. All of the places in the tourist areas apart from a few have English menus, but search around because you can usually find the same food quality for a lower price if you wander. Prices vary by location of course, and the class of the establishment. If you’re in a tourist areas expect prices to be double at least, from those in less tourist based areas.

Thai food is very nice, they take care in cooking – of course – and use a lot of spices for some meals. If you’re averse to spicy/strong foods then you could stick to the Western cuisine, but you will pay more. And be adventurous – within reason – something you may not eat in the UK is usually cooked with more care in Thailand, and they certainly know how to wow with their food.

Most all dietary requirements are catered for, vegetarian, vegan, halal.. throughout Thailand.

Food is everywhere, a cornerstone of Thai culture, you may come across items that you’d never think of eating in the West, and you may come across things that you regularly eat in the West but aren’t cooked the same in Thailand.

Drink

Alcohol
One of the more expensive parts of a travel is encountered if you drink alcohol, it may seem cheap in comparison to your usual prices, but it’s expensive when you consider that you may drink more often, or more frequently thinking that it’s cheap.

Wine is UK prices here (450 Baht a bottle), as a wine drinker I have had maybe one or two glasses – beer is the preferred drink of most that travel to Thailand, and – although prices vary, you can usually get a small bottle for 35 – 50 Baht. Spirits are available by the UK brands but also close to UK prices, unless you drink the Thai Sam Song ‘whisky’ or the equally lethal Hong Thong.

Of course you can get anything anywhere and so cocktails, spirits, beer, wine, mixers, alco-pops, just don’t expect to pay pence for them. Most of the places you stay will allow BYOB which is of course cheaper, though unless you’re near to a 7/11 (which, btw – while open 24 hours – only serves alcohol until midnight) then you may end up choosing to opt for the more expensive guest house/hostel-own price than walking the distance to the nearest off-license.

You shouldn’t drink alcohol in the streets, and most places will not sell alcohol between 2pm and 5pm each day.

Non-Alcohol
You can get just about any fruit in the land of smiles, and the best drinks I’ve had have been non-alcoholic fresh fruit shakes. Everywhere sells Pepsi, Coke and Sprite, and in the 7/11’s that are everywhere you can buy cold drinks from iced teas to juice to water. Hot drinks are a-plenty too, both coffee, tea and hot chocolate. A huge variety of teas are on offer in most places.

Don’t drink the water from the tap though, you can get various nasty things from it, not just Typhoid.. Be wary of drinks with ice in as that can come from tap water, but don’t be paranoid – you can generally tell from the place if the drinks they’re serving are ‘clean’ or not.

Photography

I’m very torn with travelling with a DSLR camera. Though I can say it’s been an adventure taking it, being able to change settings that I may not be able to on a compact. Given that I also had to take a laptop (shooting in RAW does have a downside), all chargers, accessories, etc.. the total weight came in around 18 kilos. Also because I was very wary of damaging and losing any of it I tended to carry it with me all the time. If you’re a photographer wanting to travel, if you don’t mind the weight, take all your gear – if you’re a photographer who wants to carry less I’d advise a mirror-less camera.

If you don’t take a computer, you’ll have a hard time with uploading photos. Once of the alternatives is to carry a memory card reader. Not all computers you come across in the places you visit will have an SD card slot (and good luck with a CF) so using a card reader will let you get the photos to a cloud or online source. Of course you can also just pack multiple memory cards.

Internet

Nearly everywhere has WiFi available for if you have your own device, some that give you the WiFi key, and some – usually hostels/guest houses – that offer an unsecured log in and give you a username and password for the account login screen.

It’s really anywhere if you want it. Except if you plan to go on long trips through rural areas and aren’t prepared to pay the huge data roaming charges, then I’d advise getting an international sim, everywhere sells them in Thailand.

Internet speed depends on where you go, I went in some very low-grade places and had amazing internet, compared to some high end places that had a very slow connection.

Toilets

There are three types of toilets I came across, the urinal for guys – everyone knows how to use this right? Then there is the standard toilet with seat and lid, and then there is the squat toilet. With the standard and squat toilets you will see a hose with a nozzle at the end near to the toilet. This is for cleaning yourself after going to the toilet.

Don’t expect everywhere to have toilet roll, this is something that has been introduced to Thailand over the years, the ‘bum gun’ is the equivalent, like a portable bidet if you will. Toilet roll can also cause issues if flushed, so please be sparing with what you use, and try to use the gun where possible.

The squat toilet is as it sounds, you have to take down your trousers and sit on the scored areas either side of the toilet to do your business. Once done, you will see a bucket/vat/some water receptacle with a bowl or other item to scoop up water and use as a manual flush. For this reason squat toilets usually have water on the floor, making the experience a challenge, and also slippery.

What to Bring

I can’t advise girls what to bring for various reasons, but some items are universal.

Towels
I didn’t take a towel with me, I wanted space for other things, did I make a mistake? Given the same chance again I’d take a towel, a small one at least. Most places have towels as part of the room charge, some you leave a refundable deposit, some you leave a deposit and pay, some you pay. But, if you don’t take a towel you can’t go in the sea at whim, to a pool, or any other water activity.. This let me down so I would take a small towel with me again. But it wasn’t such a pain to ruin it for me by not taking one.

Shower and Hair
Depending on where you stay there’s sometimes products available in the showers. But don’t rely on it. I’d suggest taking a body wash of some sort, soap even, or shower more often using just water.. Shampoo if you need it but shower gel will do the job. It gets hot and so two or three showers a day is commonplace.

Sun Cream
Thailand is sunny and hot for most of the year, you will need sun cream. It’s expensive there, so buy it in the UK (or wherever you’re from) it was around 400 Baht when I was looking. I used SPF 40, but some anti-malarials (Doxycycline) can make you photosensitive which will make you burn more easily, so get a higher SPF if you burn easily and are taking Doxcycyline.

Insect Repellent
The same, mozzies are all year round, you will need repellent  It’s expensive there, buy in the UK. Mosquitoes are everywhere, mostly at dusk and dawn.

Medication/First Aid
Well done if you don’t take tablets when something is wrong, and there are pharmacies most places in Thailand, but I preferred to come pre-prepared. Paracetamol, Ibuprofen, anti-diarrhoea, bandages, plasters, anti-bacterial gel, salt replacement powder, sleeping tablets, tape, anti-malarials, indigestion remedies, laxatives.. I used all but plasters of those in one month. If you’re going for longer then maybe stock more, but you could end up taking the whole pharmacy if you’re worried.

Insurance
Anything could go wrong, don’t skimp on insurance, get good cover which you may not use, as opposed to bad insurance which won’t cover you for lots of things. Cash loss, personal items cover, passport loss, theft, injury (even death) could happen whilst you’re away and you don’t want to be left in the lurch. Choose the insurance that matches your requirements and don’t be blasé about it.

Money

Credit cards
I’d take a credit card with no balance on it for emergencies. All ATMs will charge you 150 Baht per transaction, if you also add your type of card’s natural overseas charge, then each transaction could end up costing you £3+ each time you withdraw. There are some cards that factor this in, so check around before you go. Also remember that some places (though most do) may not have an ATM nearby.

Cash
Don’t take it all with you. If possible allow for an ATM transaction or two along the way. There’s nothing worse than losing your wallet, except for if all your cash was in it. Carry your wallet in your front pocket, or somewhere less easy for pickpockets (which for me, wasn’t an issue, but if you’re going to the seedier areas you may want to take this advice). On a heavy night out you shouldn’t really pay more than 1500- 2500 Baht, so only ever carry what you need, hide the rest in your sock if need be, but as the old adage goes.. ‘don’t keep all your eggs in one basket’

Backup
When you run out of cash, and your credit card is maxed, what then? Make sure that you have a means to support your travels or get home.

Packing

Valuables
A very broad topic, I’d advise against wearing any jewellery that could make you a target for people. Jewellery is – in my opinion – unnecessary for cosmetic means. Keep it safe at home. Passport, wallet and mobile should be with you at all times where possible, regardless.

Generally though, keep them with you at all times.. I kept my laptop and camera with me at all times, if you’re travelling on a sleeper transport and you fall asleep, then you’re not keeping an eye on anything that’s not near you. Be wary of your environment and be sensible. Don’t flash your valuables around.

Clothes
Thailand is hot.. very hot.. all year round. Except in the North, it can get down to 3/4/5 at night in places like Pai, you may need another blanket and thick clothing to wear yet in the South it’s super-hot in the day and still warm at night.

I was uninformed before I came so I packed way more excessively than I should.. light fabric, non-branded, everyday clothes are inexpensive in Thailand, you could probably come with no clothes in your bag and stock up for all-weather types for less than UK prices. I threw away socks and pants I didn’t need on day 1, I went commando throughout, and once you get a pair of flip flops then socks are out of the window too.

Is That It?

As I said, this list is not finite, though the above are some key things to consider before travelling. I travelled alone, so I can’t comment on group travelling/safety/packing, I did find from travelling alone that I enjoyed myself more as I wasn’t tied to anyone else.

You will meet a lot of people in the same boat as you, doing the same things. Embrace each chance you have to share stories – some great advice came from fellow travellers about where to go and what to do/not to do. Most of all have fun, be safe, love everyone and trust no-one, be respectful of Thai culture, take in the sights, sounds and smells, and make the most of what you have.

Thanks for reading, until next time..

Matt

My Last Days in Thailand Before Flying Home

I sat in my guest house, the Green Oasis, on my last day talking to Tony and Jlo the male and female owners. My train was at 17:30 so I had a while to wait. At some point his friends turned up, six or seven of them, and at 11:00 they cracked open the Jonny Walker Red Label, coke, ice and water.. (and they called me having beer at 4pm ‘breakfast’.. jokers!)

I’d met a few people in my last few days that were staying there, a couple of Korean girls, a Canadian and a guy from Seattle. More exchanges of life stories went by and the time soon got to 15:30. One of Tony’s friends was heading to the train station too, for the 4pm train, so we shared a tuk tuk and got to the train station in 15 minutes.

They sauntered off as their train was sooner, so I went to buy a ticket. There were 1st and 2nd class sleeping tickets, and 2nd and 3rd class seated. Partly due to reduced funds, and partly because I knew I wouldn’t sleep anyway I sadistically opted for the 3rd class seat – mirroring my first choice from Bangkok to Surat Thani – and sat outside in the glorious sun smoking what cigarettes I had left, alongside other 17:30 train waiters.

The train was called and I boarded. Grabbed my seat which was rickety, but luckily in my booth there were no other seats taken, this could prove useful in trying to get the ever elusive sleep during the dark hours. I knew I’d have around an hour of daylight to get some photos, but I chose to sit and take in the surroundings instead. Although empty in my booth, across and to the right from me an elderly Thai lady kept her eyes on me a lot of the time, and a group of 4 young Thai girls and a boy were also checking me out, it was kind of disconcerting but I got used to it.

As it got dark, and the two beers I’d bought had ran dry, knowing what previous journeys have been like I put on some warm clothes, bunched up some spare clothes for a pillow, swallowed a sleeping tablet and tried very hard to grab some sleep before sunrise… 11 hours to go.

The trains lie by the way… supposedly 17:30 depart 06:30 arrival.. liars, we arrived at 10:30! Anyway.. before we arrived, and after a short and troubled sleep, lots of very random dreams, dreams where I’d be half awake still in the dream and talking to someone who isn’t there! The sun rose and I managed to see a better sunrise than on my trip up to Chiang Mai a few days before. After the lack of sleep, seeing such a peaceful and beautiful sight made my day.

Sunrise en-route from Chiang Mai to Bangkok

Sunrise en-route from Chiang Mai to Bangkok

Sunrise en-route from Chiang Mai to Bangkok

Sunrise en-route from Chiang Mai to Bangkok

Sunrise en-route from Chiang Mai to Bangkok

Sunrise en-route from Chiang Mai to Bangkok

Sunrise en-route from Chiang Mai to Bangkok

Sunrise en-route from Chiang Mai to Bangkok

Sunrise en-route from Chiang Mai to Bangkok

Sunrise en-route from Chiang Mai to Bangkok

Sunrise en-route from Chiang Mai to Bangkok

Sunrise en-route from Chiang Mai to Bangkok

After the sun had risen, all you could see for miles was farm areas – usually rice paddies – nothing really descript but still eye candy for a foreigner in a strange land. Not far from Bangkok luckily with my camera still in hand, I randomly saw from the corner of my eye a couple of men in the distance, the idea of capturing people in a candid way, doing what they’re doing, going about their own business always appeals to me. So I fired off a shot, I didn’t know if the exposure or levels were right in any way, let alone the focus, yet I was so pleasantly surprised by the turnout of the photo.. I’d captured a moment that was seemingly unnoticed, unprepared and… well… I’m very pleased with the outcome, and it’s up there, if not the favourite photo of the journey.

Two rural fishermen on the outskirts of Bangkok

Two rural fishermen on the outskirts of Bangkok

And from there, really, not much to be honest… I headed over to the Saphai Pae hostel (who had put their prices up since last time I stayed 7 days ago!) grabbed a shower using someone else’s towel, and chilled in reception trying as hard as I could to avoid spending money. I actually went up to bed around 7pm, still quite tired from the sleepless train journey, and watched Game of Thrones before falling asleep.

I woke up around 8am thanks to the others in the dorm, but still I sat watching Game of Thrones again from the previous night, preciously using as much time as possible doing nothing because the alternative was to go and spend stupid money on a drink or a meal downstairs.. I somehow managed to while a few hours away.. just enough to get me to my usual ‘safe’ time to arrive at the airport without freaking out that I’d be late for a flight. Airport prices for everything were tripled so I grabbed a water and a Minute Maid orange, held out until I was called for boarding, got on the plane and we were off.

We landed in Hanoi for the flight transfer, 4 hours wait and I mostly spent it wandering around, in the smoking room or near the smoking room because the nearby business lounge WiFi was in range. Time pretty much flew by.. coffcoffbullshitcoffcoff.. but I was called for my flight and had to leave Hanoi

Heavy hearted for leaving beautiful Thailand behind, heading to a beautiful cold country, the in-flight entertainment wasn’t working throughout the flight so I slept as much as possible, enjoyed the refreshments as much as possible, and did anything I could to pass the time, before we landed ahead of time. The captain spieled his usual ‘welcome to London’ speech, followed by “it’s -6 out there, clear skies, and the local time is 06:30”.. -6!!!! a whole 40 degrees less than 15 hours ago when I left for the airport, drastically underclothed for the climate, I went straight for Costas upon getting my baggage and ordered the largest caramel soya latté they had whilst waiting and planning my next moves..

At this time of day no-one was up, I’d arranged to go and see Rob and Karina, but of course by the time I would arrive at theirs they’d be away at work, so I resigned to heading to Kingston near them and spending the day until they arrived in coffee shops and wandering around K-Town.

I grabbed the shuttle to the South Terminal, by that time light, and blanketed with snow!

Snow at Gatwick's Shuttle TrainSnow at Gatwick's Shuttle Train

Snow at Gatwick’s Shuttle Train

I spent as much time in the airport as possible, before venturing into the known, but unknown wilderness that is London.

Farang or not, I’m still kick ass at pinball!

Finally arrived back in Bangkok’s Hua Lamphong train station, then got the Metro, changing at Mo Chit, to get on the Sukhumvit line train to Punnawithi station. This was where the room I’d booked the day before was supposed to be.

I got off and walked up the road, heavy bags in tow, got around half a kilometre before giving in and realising it wasn’t that way at all – stopped and asked in one of the ever-present 7/11‘s for ‘Merlin’s Lodge‘, they were none the wiser. So I walked back to the BTS station and found the nearest café with WiFi to hole up in and take stock.

It was then – when my emails started working – that I got an email from Merlin’s Lodge saying HostelBookers.com had cocked up the booking and the price I was quoted online was based on two people sharing, so twice the price, and would I like to cancel the reservation. I agreed and started looking for the next place instead via TripAdvisor.co.uk.

A highly rated, inexpensive guest house called Soi 1 Guest House was recommended as a place without tourists and for those seeking the true nature of backpacking – result! I finished my coffee and hopped onto the BTS for 8 or so stops to Phloen Chit.

When I arrived, still not very clear where in relation to the station my guest house was, I asked the nearest security guard. He pointed me in the wrong direction, I realised when I crossed the road. So I crossed back over and avoided asking him again and took the road my map appeared to show as the right one.

Wrong!

Half way down it closed off to a private residence, so I asked the lady peeling fruit outside her house where to find the right Soi (side street), she motioned over the road and one more road up. So I walked, and walked, and walked and walked and walked – about 1 kilometre in total. Realising once again I had the wrong road I holed up in a quaint little restaurant for a shake and to gather my bearings. The lady was right, it was one street up, but not the other side of the road.

TAXI!!

I was buggered if I was going to walk down that long ass road again, so I hailed the nearest taxi and tried to show him on the map. He didn’t speak a word of English so he passed his mobile to me to speak to the controller who gathered where I was going and told the driver.

After 20 minutes or so I was outside the rather unassuming Soi 1 Guest House. The fare was 55 Baht but I had 53 in coins, or a 1000 Baht note.. he balked at the note so he caved to the 53 Baht.

I walked in and up to the 2nd floor reception, met a beautiful Thai girl behind the counter called Jenny and asked pleadingly if there was a room. Result! 8 man dorm and one bed left, so I took it for 400 Baht per night, stuff trying to find cheaper, I was knackered and needed a shower.

She showed me to my room and I met the residents, all Aussies and Americans, so guaranteed good chat and a laugh. One Aussie, Sebastian, was looking for a local arcade to play some games, I asked if they had pinball and it turns out they did. So after showering, chatting and introducing, and then hearing an almighty bang outside that turned out to be the power transforming giving out to the heat and needing repait.. 5 of us headed to the MBK mall in National Stadium, a ride to Siam, change, and one more stop.

The power company in Thailand that came to fix the broken transformer

With an almighty bomb-like explosion, the transformer gave out in the heat

On arrival, it’s huge! 7 floors, 1 clothes, 2 iPhones/tablets/gadgets, 2 food, 1 camera porn level and 1 entertainment. After checking out the food floor and grabbing a photobooth moment with the crew, we headed up to the top floor to play arcade games and most importantly – pinball!

The gang from Soi 1 Guest House in Bangkok

The December 30th Soi 1 Guest House Crew

30 Baht, and 5 games later I secured my nickname in potentially Bangkok’s only Pirates of the Carribbean pinball machine, scoring the Davy Jones high score! Farang or not I’m still kick-ass at pinball!

Pirates of the Carribbean pinball machine in MBK mall, with my high score and TUT initials

Famous in Thailand! Davy Jones high score for TUT!

Some of the crew had headed down to eat, and when I’d finished, me and Sebastian also headed down for some Thai food before heading back to the guest house around 5 to chill out before a night out on the town.

I’d had enough though, worn out from my journey up, and knowing if I went out I’d come back at 9am, I grabbed an insanely expensive beer from the guest house reception (80 Baht, double and more than I’ve been paying before) and sat in the common room catching up on Facebook and chilling out. By the time the others had woken up I’d moved onto Black Label and coke for 100 Baht, reasoning it was less expensive in the long run (wrong!) and we all sat and gathered talking about stereotypical Brits, Aussies and Americans.

Sebastian the Australian from the Soi 1 Guest House crew

Sebastian the Australian from the Soi 1 Guest House crew

Jenny (left) the Soi 1 Guest House receptionist

Jenny (left) the Soi 1 Guest House receptionist, and dude, sorry, you said your name but I’ve forgotten, get in touch!

Amy from Australia from the Soi 1 Guest House crew

Amy from Australia from the Soi 1 Guest House crew

David, the Soi 1 Guest House owner

David, the Soi 1 Guest House owner, full of awesome advice and tips

Most went out around 10/11, leaving a few of usleft to chat more in depth about the respective cultures. David, the guest house owner, and officially Thailand’s first guest house ex-pat owner, had turned up to chat and give advice. This guy – apart from trying to push us all on his pub crawl for NYE the next day – was stuffed full of amazing advice, not just for Thailand, he’s been everywhere. He also strangely has a Dutch twang to his accent!

After whiling away the hours, and drinking David out of Jonny Walker, I crashed for the night around 2-ish. Woke up around 10am to pack up, grab the minivan to Hua Hin from Victory Monument roundabout and join Peter and his family for a few days.

In the minibus en-route from Bangkok to Hua Hin

In the minibus en-route from Bangkok to Hua Hin

Despite the driver’s 120km/h driving, he was actually quite good and managed to get me to Hua Hin central around 2:30pm. I holed up in ‘The Shed’ guest house for a long deserved pineapple shake and texted Peter’s phone to tell him I had arrived.

Robbed!

After realising that I hadn’t saved anywhere near enough money for a 3 month travel, I did have an “I must do” moment.. and that was going to see Ella’s brother, Peter in Hua Hin.

As I waved goodbye to Krabi, and the staff at the two places I spent the most time in – the Chok Dee (Good Luck) restaurant, and Café 89 Café – I set off for Surat Thani, the hub for travel around the Southern islands.

Sun, the head waiter at the Choke Dee restaurant, Krabi

Sun the head waiter at Chok Dee restaurant, this guy was always smiling

The owner of 89 Café Restaurant in Krabi

The owner of 89 Café, always friendly and smiling

The grandmother of 89 Café's owner in Krabi

The mother of the owner of 89 Café, face like a bulldog chewing a wasp until you make friends, then the beaming smile comes out!

I paid 300 Baht (£6) for an air conditioned bus to Surat Thani train station. I got a minibus to the local staging point and then waited 2 hours for the bus to Surat Thani to arrive. There I met a couple of nice ladies from Utrecht and a South African lady to while away the time with some laughs.

The staging point in Krabi for buses to Surat Thani, Phuket and Krabi Town

No respite from the heat during the 2 hour wait for the bus to Surat Thani

When the bus finally arrived and the number 2 was called (it was either 1, 2, 3 or 4, luckily mine turned up first) I set off on the 3 hour ride to the station.

A beautiful sunset and sky just outside Krabi

A beautiful sunset and sky to send me off back up North to Bangkok

At Surat Thani I made sure I was first off and I’d already planned my backpack to be the first off so I could secure a better seat on the sleeper train to Bangkok.

I’d been told that travel to Bangkok around New Year’s was hellish so I already anticipated either no seats or a 3rd class no-sleep seat. I asked the guy for a 2nd class sleeper and he said they were available, at 350 Baht more than my hellish journey down here, I thought I’d pay the extra £7 and get a 598 Baht 2nd class sleeper ticket.

The train wasn’t for another 45 minutes, so I grabbed supplies (beer, water, Lays – nori seaweed flavour) and sat having a smoke. There was a guy who kept looking my way, older, looked Indian, who eventually came over.. turns out he is from Austria, and he’s seen a lot of the world, including nearly all of Thailand.. so we exhanged stories. he had to wait for 12 hours for his next train down South, but psychically he walked away telling me my train would be arriving soon and so it did!

I got on the train and looked in wonder at this crazy invention, the sleeper train – top and bottom bunk either side of the carriage, and around 10-15 rows, so 40-60 people all sleeping in the one carriage, and there were over 15 of them..

The 2nd class sleeping carriage on the train from Surat Thani to Bangkok

The 2nd class sleeping carriage on the train from Surat Thani to Bangkok

I’d already drank two small beers with the Austrian, so I’d bought two more – placed my valuables in the bunk with me, my backpack in the over head storage, and closed the curtain to settle in.

Drank another beer and then went for a smoke, then another beer and another smoke. Took a sleeping tablet to help along the way and played angry birds until my eyes drooped.

Robbed!!

I wasn’t settling and I kept on hearing footsteps up and down, so I peeked out and saw a guy with what can only be described as a walkie talkie but with a long screw driver shaft instead of an aerial. He was rummaging through a bag, and I don’t recall seeing him before so I was instantly suspicious.. On further watching I saw him reach into the front pocket of this red bag and pull out a mobile, which he pocketed.. then he nonchalantly pulled out a map from the same pocket and looked at it before shoving it in the side pocket.

Then, most suss of all, he stuck the device up his t-shirt to keep it out of sight and then went up and down the aisle again.

When he hit the end of the aisle he started talking to someone I couldn’t see from my position gesturing up the carriage and left and right, potentially pointing out targets, or that there were people watching..

I gave up after he disappeared out of sight and settled to sleep, I got about 5 or 6 hours worth before 7:15 and waking up with all the others, bleary eyed and tired.

A security guard came up the train and folded up all the beds into seats, stowing the top bunk away and moving the bottom bunk into two person sized seats. Within an hour we’d hit Bangkok’s Hua Lamphong train station ready for the next day in the journey.

Thought I’d Be Crabby In Krabi

The last night in the hotel proved to be…… interesting to say the least, and for fear of offending some I won’t go into full detail.

Evening started with a 3 hour long chat with Mike, from Scotland.. he’s 44, has MS down one side of his body, and – together with his wife – is 3/4 of the way on his round the world trip.

This guy has seen a lot, and he gave some amazing and inspiring advice, we talked about my budget and he said it’s gonna be tough and I’ll have to slum it, but it’s absolutely do-able. I always knew budget would be a problem, but after speaking to Mike he allayed my fears so long as I know to reign it in.

It was after speaking to him that I decided on my next step and the place I was going to stay for the next stage. The Pak-Up hostel in Krabi Town.

Why Krabi? Well…

Krabi picture courtesty of travelourplanet | cc

Not my photo, Photo courtesy of ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/travelourplanet/##Travelourplanet## | ##http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/##cc by
2.0##

All the reviews on TripAdvisor showed this to be the best possible place for a budget and not willing to put up with any troubles. So, booked, looked at how to get there from Bangkok and settled in for the last night at Imm Fusion Sukhumvit.

At some point a girl turned up, Lita, from Denmark but half South African.. she’d arrived with a local, Pong, both wasted. Turns out he’s a taxi driver, bottle of vodka in hand. She was pushing for him to leave and me and Mike both wouldn’t allow it so she handed over the keys to her room and let him sleep it off.

Then we all got chatting and she’s in Bangkok for cosmetic surgery, after having two kids she has stretch marks and she’s not happy with various other parts of her body, so she shelled out 200,000 baht (£4,000) and she was checking in tomorrow. After various remarks from the staff for her to keep it down, and me and Mike both trying to calm her down the evening turned out to be pretty easy going and I like to think I’ve made a couple of friends from this chance meeting.

To cut a long story short, it was 6am before we turned in, and by then a Moroccan guy and a French girl had joined in the fun. By the end of the night it was just me, Lita and the French girl left and.. well.. the first sentence of this blog says enough.

I woke up at 1pm to the telephone ringing “Hello, would you like to check out, or would you like to stay another day?” The receptionist politely asked.. I realised it was well past checkout at 12 noon and apologised profusely. She let me have an hour to get ready to check out and I showered, made ready, checked out and stayed in the cool of the hotel, recovering.

Lita joined me around 3pm, looking as red eyed as I was, we shared a hair of the dog and chatted. Turns out she missed her op appointment, the doctor wasn’t happy, but managed to get her an appointment the next day. Then the French girl turned up and we chatted some more, but I had to go and get the train down south to Krabi.

A beautiful sunset to send me off from Bangkok, turns out Thailand has air pollution too!

A beautiful sunset to send me off from Bangkok, turns out Thailand has air pollution too!

Didn’t even think of pre-booking, so I turned up at the train station at Hua Luamphong expecting a lovely choice of seats.. mistake #1, the only thing left before the 27th was 3rd class non-sleeping.. I’d already booked the hostel, and taking Mike’s advice from yesterday thought that no matter what, I’ll get to my destination through hell or high water, and even if it’s non-sleeping, I’m sure I’ll grab some hours kip.

It cost 507 Baht for the train to Surat Thani, plus a bus (I thought) to Krabi. I had half an hour to wait so I stocked provisions for the trip, grabbed a hot meal then sat and waited.

The train was called – platform 4 – I headed down to the train and must have walked past 15 carriages, 1 first (first class) 2 second (second class) and muggins at the very end in 3rd.. Jesus.. no frills indeed, and won’t be taking advantage fo the free water

3rd class sleeper train to Surat Thani

Yum, fresh as a daisy water!

After choosing the wrong seat and being ousted by the right ticket holders, I looked at my ticket and put myself down on the right seat opposite a young girl, what a wonder though to have open windows as you’re riding half way down the country – shame it was going to be dark for all but 2 hours of it.

As we set off, hawkers stormed up selling everything you’d need, so long as it was foreigner priced food and drinks – though I was determined before the end of the journey to haggle my first purchase, I’m not paying double just because I’m travelling!

Through central Bangkok, along the river, passing by shanty town living and destitution, yet everyone’s chugging along. Material possessions don’t have such a hold on these folk. Lodging, food and – well, heat! – seem to be the primary concern.. I’m envious in a certain regard for them to have such moral fortitude despite facing hardship while I’m stressing about my next iPhone contract, or that I can’t go out every other night..

On the sleeper train just outside bangkok

Beautiful tree lights just outside Bangkok

After leaving Bangkok it was pretty dark all around, such a shame because I could make out palm trees, hear us going over rivers and bridges, but it was dark and I’d have to wait until sunrise, we’d come across the occasional station, or level crossing, or some habited place, but all in all it was pretty bland.

Everyone else seemed to fall asleep, me and the girl opposite had picked up another in our booth of 2×2 seats and he sat her side so I had two to myself, then why couldn’t I bloody well sleep?? Everyone else in the coach was snoring! It seemed every conceivable position had something sticking in my back/neck/leg dead/dead arse.. No.. sleep… till Krabi!

After 7 hours attempting, and around 2 hours of broken sleep, I thought sod it there’s no chance, and pulled out the pad and paper to draw and while away the hours.. The hawkers had stopped out of respect of people sleeping so there was only one or two people awake. I was in and out of the vestibule because you could smoke in there. Amazing – open doored train, one jolt and I could have been out into the fetid parallel ditches!

As it got closer to Surat Thani, the dawn broke.. excited as I was on the right side to see the sunrise, I hit a storm, pissing it down and clouding over the first chance I’ve had at seeing a far East sunrise. Ah well, plenty more to come I suspect.

Storm brewing in Southern Thailand

Storm brewing

The daylight did give me an opportunity to take some photos of the scenery I’ve been missing out on all sleepless night, varied from relatively opulent houses, to beautiful temples, to jungle and to destitute.

Southern Thailand destitute houses

Destitute houses en-route to Krabi

Southern Thailand more opulent houses

One of the more opulent houses en-route to Krabi

Finally arrived at Surat Thani at 7:15am 45 minute wait for the bus to Krabi. The usual cries of “tuk tuk?” or “taxi” as I left the station for a cigarette and towards the bus station. Queue was pretty big, so there wasn’t enough room for me on the first – luxury air conditioned – bus, instead I was bustled onto some rusty, suspension issued, cramped, leaking, ugly ass bus from the 1940’s.. I was surprised the suspension could handle the 40 bags loaded into the back seats.

Bus 1 lasted around an hour, then we hit an intermediate bus station to pick up people coming from the south, and headed to Krabi on a different bus (the same bus, we had to get off and unload our bags only to be told this was the right bus) – then to the stunning XX pier for another interchange onto a minibus to Krabi – 2 hours and a final interchange to Krabi town.. the 1 luxurious bus I was hoping for, and advised would be the case thanks to an online source I won’t mention – turned into 2 buses, 1 minibus and a taxi to Krabi.. still only 557 baht all-in, but sheesh. This journey took longer than my flight from the UK to Thailand, including Vietnam
stopover!

BUT! The icing on the cake, Krabi town is a lot more sedate than Bangkok, with promise of short journeys to the most beautiful beaches and islands – I’ll check them out tomorrow, for now I’m relaxing again, doing my washing and not thinking what is going to come next.