I have to say that, so far, Thailand is one of my favorite countries. I’ve got a lot more to go but I found it to be a very easy country to travel in, learn from, and enjoy. My experience was a bit cursory as even my extended stay there was really as a tourist and never quite as a local, though this will be remedied at some point in the not so distant future. Tourism is so integrated into the culture, however, that it’s a bit hard to separate the two sometimes. I get a sense that the Thai people feel the same.
The Thai people really have an easy way about them and they aim to please. I found them a generally friendly lot and willing to try and help out, even with the occasional language barrier, though in a city like Bangkok and perhaps others more in high tourist season, you’d be wise to be leery of the friendly stranger. It’s not a danger thing mind you; it’s more about being taken for a few extra dollars.
Thailand is very clean compared to other, smaller touristy countries I’ve been in and the people really make sure all the amenities one might want to enjoy while on vacation are readily available. Basically, Thai’s like to have fun and enjoy life. You really get a sense of that as you travel around the country, particularly when you hit the beach communities. The culture and history run deep. The water was never a problem and the food was fantastic. The best, of course, was the local food produced at the local street markets of which there are numerous.
My first destination was Phuket. October was really the perfect time to go since the clouds kept it from being boiling hot but the rain,for the most part, stayed at bay. Phuket is a great place to start especially during the shoulder season since it has enough action to keep you busy but it’s still got a cruisey beach community vibe that makes for an easy transition. Phuket is a great place to explore Thai culture as much as it is to enjoy all those typical beach activities like para-sailing, surfing, scooter rides around the island, and plenty of night life action.
You can truly live the good life in Phuket with a very small amount of money and it’s a good place to base yourself out of if you want to explore the rest of Thailand. While my partner and I were there we indulged in massages, spectacular theatre performances, shopping, kayaking, and stunning views from some of the highest peaks in the area. Our hosts at the hostel, which felt more like a hotel, were amazing local guys who made fresh food sometimes, hooked us up with shots, and had great insight to offer us about the local area
TRAVEL TIP #1
Always haggle when booking excursions and such. Never pay the posted price.
There are certain things in Thailand that are obviously not negotiable but these seemed few in my experience, especially when it comes to the fun, adventure stuff. There is a lot of competition for your cash in these areas so you can really push for the best deal, but do it respectfully and with a smile. Using some humor and friendly persuasion will ensure that you get the best deal without creating bad vibes between you and the person you are dealing with. Just remember they are like you in that they are trying to make their own way in the world. Be a good human to them and they will return it in kind.
Next Stop: Koh Phangan
This is sort of the hippie island. It tends to attract the seekers due to its large yoga community, which is, of course, why we were there too. Truly a beautiful island, life there in October was just slow and easy as one could get. In spite of 8 hours of yoga training, 6 days a week for a month, it still felt like floating along the stream of life. There are great places to snorkel and several dive operations to choose from; plenty of cheap places to stay, depending on the season. The shopping is plentiful and the street food markets are brilliant. We rented a scooter and on our off time cruised around exploring the various communities along the shores of the island, each with its own particular vibe.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that this is also the home of the infamous Full Moon Party which, if caught at the right time of year, presents a formidable adventure for even the most resolute party go-er. We happily missed out on that kind of evening. Ours seemed more of a family affair with kids watching fire spinners and DJ’s sharing their particular form of ear candy from one portion of the beach to another. Mushroom milkshakes, buckets of booze (this sounds more impressive than it is by the way), glowing body paint, warm ocean water, soft sand, the full moon, and a perfect temperature all made for a literally and metaphorically intoxicating evening.
Our month of Yoga study was truly amazing. I highly recommend Agama Tantra Yoga School if you are searching for a place to study yoga yourself, though I would also recommend staying in one of the many nearby rental properties instead of staying on the school premises. It is simply too much for too little in relationship to everything else on the island.
Bangkok, like many cities, is a great to explore if you are cashed up. Hell, it’s great even if you aren’t but it’s a lot more challenging than some of the smaller towns and cities in Thailand. There is so much to do and see. What you will find is a proliferation of temples; stunningly beautiful temples by the boat loads. The truth is, unless you are a die-hard temple historian, it can get pretty old quick. A magic moment we experienced, though, was arriving at a small temple that was right about to close, so we pretty much had it all to ourselves for a half an hour. We took full advantage of this place of solace and peace by enjoying a good, quiet meditation.
Personally, though, my favorite things in Bangkok were the markets on the outskirts of town with something like 6000 vendors whose wares range from art, food, old swords, household items, and fashions to the tiniest, cutest miniature cats, rabbits, puppies, birds, and so on you’ve ever seen. Ridiculously adorable is the only way I could describe the scene. The other favorite, I have to admit, was actually the Bangkok MalI. I know. I know. “WHAT,” you say, “The Mall????” Yes, the Mall. Here’s why. It is a massive feast for the senses. While it is very much like mega malls you might find in western countries it has its own cultural peculiarities that I found fascinating, the dining options being primary. Also, when we went there was some kind of art event happening so all of the window dressings were done by some truly creative souls so it was almost like walking through a modern art museum as much as it was through a mall. The other serendipitous event was a major digital camera expo going on just outside the mall and for camera geeks like us this was a no brainer. Not particularly “cultural” I know but who’s counting?
Travel Tip #2
Unless you want to party all night, avoid staying anywhere near Khao Son Road. We had to learn this one the hard way.
CHILLIN IN CHIANG MAI
Chiang Mai, sometimes misspelled as Chang Mai, is a stunning city nestled in the mountains of northern Thailand about twelve and a half hours north of Bangkok. You can get there by plane, bus, cab, train, rental car or even a series of rickshaws if you’re really adventurous, though you’d have to find drivers who were equally so.
I visited Chiang Mai with my partner at the time after we spent a month in the south of Thailand studying yoga on the small island of Ko Phangan. After a few days in Bangkok, we took a bus north as we had heard from other travelers what a great city Chiang Mai was for learning and exploring. We spent about a week there, walking along the water ways and through the walled fortress area that is the beating heart of this city. October was a great time to visit as the temperature was perfect and the rain was slight.
The local food is great and cheap. The spa options are abundant. The creative education opportunities are bountiful, as are the opportunities to explore history and natural wonders The people of Chiang Mai, and of Thailand in general, are very good at taking care of you. They are largely a happy and helpful lot, though in cities like Bangkok, as in all cities really, it’s wise to be mindful of the “helpful” stranger. I find trusting your gut instincts the best bet in those situations, provided you’ve honed them to some degree. Otherwise, stick with friends or go with an organized tour or take your chances and learn as you go. Likely the worst that will happen is that you’ll part with a little extra Bhat (Thai money); a cheap education on the road.
While in Chiang Mai, my partner and I had both an educational and adventurous time studying Thai Massage, exploring jungles on the back of Elephants, floating down rivers on Bamboo rafts, and luxuriating at one of the many local spas--and it was CHEAP. In any Western country you’d easily spend three times as much to enjoy what we did.
Here are some specifics activities that we found worth exploring if you are headed that way:
• Street food is the best AND the cheapest way to eat. Just use common sense
• Amazing Italian. While on a wander about town we discovered this little gem called Stefano
Chang Moi Kao Road, Si Phum, Chiang Mai, 50200, Thailand+66 53 874 189
Good Places to Stay:
Another place well worth a stay if you’re a bit more cashed up is called Mo Rooms and it’s super funky, artsy, chic, and all those other trendy words that hotels like to use to describe themselves, but Mo Rooms really fits the bill. The whole layout is one giant work of art. If you’ve got the coin you would do well to book a night or two in this hotel. You won’t be disappointed.
An extensive list of accommodations in Chiang Mai can be found here: Stay in Chiang Mai. And of course heaps more information about Chiang Mai in general can be read here: Wikitravel
Jon Prophet is a writer for tantrictraveler.com
as well as a musician -jonprophetmusic.com, filmmaker-immaculateprojections.com