When I left for SE Asia, my goal was to hit the Thai islands right away. That didn’t happen. It took me 4 trips to Thailand and 5 months traveling through this part of the world to finally make it here. Partly due to weather, partly due to timing, and a big part to do with geography. When you get into a route that makes logical sense to continue on, why drift off when its cheaper and faster to stay the course? ← Wow, that sounds so ironic coming from a person who has clearly drifted so far off the “normal” path for life.
It Took Me Years To Get Here
I’ve had my eye on visiting the Thai islands for years now. I was one of those crazy people 10 years ago who thought Thailand would be a fun (and cheap) place to visit. I was one of those people who everyone made fun of because, “Who the hell goes to Thailand when Europe is obviously the backpackers’ preferred choice?” I guess my thinking was a little ahead of the game.
With every year that passed and every friend that ventured to Thailand, I grew more and more envious. I watched as something so rare and elusive became something so touristy. I didn’t care though, I still wanted to go.
There Was Always An Excuse…
I tried to plan a trip in the winter of 2014 but due to some health issues with a friend, we couldn’t go. In 2015 I tried again but surprisingly got engaged and traveling long-term was out of the question while planning a wedding. [Side Note: I never got married, hence the single solo travel.] In 2016 I was somewhere else in the world. And finally in April of 2017, I made it. I finally made it!
In April 2017 I was in exploring the exciting and untouched world of Myanmar (Burma), a dream come true. Tourism hasn’t quite ruined this country yet. The people are kind and the experiences are authentic.
While exploring this beautiful country, I quickly learned that they would be celebrating the Burmese New Year during my visit… sweet! I knew Thailand had a very special way of celebrating the new year, but I had no idea other countries did too! It turns out, many Buddhist countries welcome the new year with a 3 day water festival filled with water guns, smiling faces, and mass chaos throughout the country. I was so excited!
It’s an amazing experience! I promise to post all my tips and tricks for planning your trip to next year’s water festival, including all the secret things I wish I knew ahead of time such as…
All the transportation in Myanmar stops for 10 days. Yes, 10 days. Not 3 days, 10! Since all the townspeople go home to their families, there is no one to drive the buses and therefore, all of the companies close. While I completely understand, I wasn’t prepared and my travel arrangements quickly had to change.
Since everything closes down, I needed to pick a place where I wanted to be “trapped” for over a week. Honestly, there was no where I wanted to be so I expedited my trip and my once seemingly cheap month-long trip to Myanmar rapidly turned into an expensive adventure just over 2 weeks. I was gutted.
Last Minute Change of Plans
While all this was going on, my good friend Lee (who I met in December and I’m sure you’ve seen plenty pictures of him along the way), messaged me saying that he was leaving Vietnam in the next day or two and asked if I wanted to meet up. Since he was nearing the end of his travels in SE Asia, I knew if I wanted any last funny travel moments with him, now was the time.
Within a few hours, we both booked flights to meet in Bangkok the following day around midnight. That was our only plan. We had no place to sleep, no city to move onto, nothing. We both wanted to visit Khao Sok National Park so with that in mind, we booked our flights and left.
My plan was to sleep in the airport (with or without Lee) and catch the first flight in the morning to Khao Sok National Park. I didn’t want to pay for a 30 minute taxi into the city just to sleep in a hostel for a few hours and then usher myself back to the airport in the morning.
Lee had a different plan…
First off, he almost didn’t make it. That’s a long story in itself but I was pretty confident he was going to miss his flight. After a horrible turn of events and a terrible traffic situation getting him back from a tour, he jumped out of a mini bus and ran 2km hoping to get back to his hostel fast enough to catch a taxi and make it to the airport in time for his flight.
I boarded my flight not knowing his outcome.
When I arrived in Bangkok, I had a text from him. I was waiting for it to say that he missed his flight. And even if he made it, I felt like he would’ve told me he missed it just to see the look of my face when he surprised me (we do that kind of twisted stuff). I got his text and he actually made the flight! Yes!
I was excited to camp out in the airport and head to Khao Sok National Park early in the morning, but after Lee learned that Thailand’s water festival, Songkran, was in full effect, he was really excited to attend! How could I say no?
Bring on the super soakers
While the Myanmar water festival was amazing, out of this world actually, I was just SO OVER WATER. You couldn’t leave your hostel for anything without getting soaked. Imagine wanting to grab a bottle of water but knowing that it would cost you a set of clean clothes, a shower (with your towel that’s still wet from earlier), and at least 30 minutes of feeling extremely cold from the ice water dumped over your head. Yikes!
I also didn’t think Bangkok could compare to my experience in Yangon (Myanmar). I assumed it would be touristy and just not the same. I also didn’t want to waste time in Bangkok. I had been there 4 times and I knew it would be a waste of time and money for me. However, at 1:30am in a Subway sandwich shop in the Bangkok airport, Lee “won” and we found a hostel with availability and caught a 30 minute taxi into the city. Side note, it wasn’t a win or lose thing… I could’ve easily said no but why deny any guy the chance to play around with water guns all day? It really is SO fun!
Where do we sleep?
Lee being the overwhelmingly charming cheeky English man that he is, he always manages to get something discounted or for free. People love him. He’s persistent and kind. And it worked again.
When we arrived at the hostel, it was 2am and we refused to pay full price for a bed since it was so late and the bed was going to be empty anyways. While we couldn’t get a discount on the bed, the hostel gave us free towels, showers, and 2 couches to sleep on for free for the night. Score! The next day we even got to check in super early into our rooms so we could unpack and have a full day in the city. This stuff never happens.
Bangkok Hostel Tips
We stayed at Mile Map hostel because it was close to Silom Road which is where we wanted to be for Songkran (the water festival). Bangkok is divided into two main areas– the old town and the new city.
The Old Town
The old town has more of a backpacker vibe and is closer to many of the touristy sights such as the Grand Palace, Emerald Temple, Reclining Buddha, Chao Phraya River, etc. You’ll find tons of cheap street food, open-air markets, and the craziest place to party all night on Khao San Road. The only setback to this part of town is that the public transportation system (BTS train/metro stations) are not close. It doesn’t really matter too much because you can walk everywhere. Plus, you can catch a tuk tuk (cheap, open-air taxi) or an uber if you need to go anywhere too far to walk.
Travel tip: You do not need a SIM card or internet to use uber. If you have wifi when you place the request, it is okay to disconnect from wifi during the trip and the app will automatically continue as requested and charge the correct amount.
Hostel Recomendation: If you’re staying in this area, I highly recommend NapPark hostel. This is one of the few hostels I’d suggest booking ahead of time because it always sells out.
The New City
The new city is the exact opposite. It reminds me of any metropolitan area like New York or LA. It’s filled with traffic, tall buildings, and the normal hustle and bustle of any big city. It’s a great place to stay if you want access to tons of shopping malls, western-style restaurants (aka food that reminds you of home) or public transportation. You’ll find some amazing restaurants here, fancy hotels, beautiful sky bars, clubs, etc. I personally like the old town much better but its a matter of personal preference.
What About Khao Sok National Park?
I wanted to figure out how we were going to get to Khao Sok National Park, Lee wanted to play with the water guns. Somehow we “took a break” from the planning that never started and ventured into the town.
Again, this is another long story of getting soaked all day and all the deceptive little tricks that kept getting me out of planning mode and back into the wet crowds, but in the end we finally agreed to make some decisions. Khao Sok National Park wasn’t looking too easy (or cheap) to get to so we decided to book the next cheap flight somewhere in the direction of the islands and Krabi it was!
By the way, Songkran, the Thailand water festival was tons of fun. I promise to type of that experience as well as all my tips and tricks for surviving Songkran in Bangkok— a totally different kind of experience.
Back to the main point of the post…
I had been trying to get to the Thai islands for years and we were finally on our way! One step closer to my dream destination…
First stop, Krabi.