After enduring the soggy winter (remember the storms!?), Bookings Consultant Ben thought it was definitely time to dust off the flip flops and get some tropical sunshine and vitamin D in his life. In his search for good value, excellent food and tropical beaches, he decided Thailandwas guaranteed to hit the spot. Here he shares his discoveries.
The plan was for a couple of weeks lazing on a tropical beach, preferably with a hammock, and definitely including mango shakes and pineapple on a stick – sandwiched in between the chaos and energy of Bangkok.
After touching down in a very steamy Bangkok (don’t come here in March/April if you fear the heat – the air is as thick as soup), we headed straight for my favourite area, Chinatown, and the beautiful Shanghai Mansions.
Having visited Bangkok on numerous occasions in the past, we’d ticked off all the main tourist sights, so our stay was dedicated to one thing – food. The sheer abundance and variety of food on offer in this city is mind-blowing, and you could spend years crawling the streets and sampling a mix of dishes from all over Asia. Heaven.
Chinatown offers up some of the best, and the streets come alive after dark with food stalls spilling out into the roads and mini plastic seats covering the pavements. I only wish I had put in some training to stretch the stomach more. Chinatown also has backstreets packed with stalls selling everything you could ever need (and lots that you really don’t).
And so, it was time to hit the beach. A quick and easy internal flight down to Hat Yai, followed by a ferry ride, brought us to Ko Lipe. Located within Tarutao National Park, it’s not exactly a hidden gem and is really popular with Asian tourists (especially from Malaysia, which is only an hour’s ferry ride away).
The main draw is the outlying islands dotted about the national park, which are easily explored on day trips in longtail boats. If you’re into snorkelling – this is for you. Uninhabited tropical islands cloaked in dense rainforest fringe whiter than white beaches, leading straight onto shallow reefs which start about 10 meters off the beach and stretch as far as you can swim. After seeing so many of SE Asia’s reefs being destroyed, the number of fish and live colourful coral was really heart-warming.
Our last few days on the beach were spent on Raleigh beach in Krabi. The karst limestone cliffs framing the beaches here really do take your breath away – it’s well and truly on the tourist trail and the amount of day trippers is a little overwhelming, but they come with good reason. You get jaw ache from gaping at all those amazing cliffs.
On our return to Bangkok we stayed at the atmospheric and regal Chakrabongse Villas, a collection of beautiful suites and rooms on the verdant riverfront.
To escape the intensity of Bangkok for a day, we visited the floating market at Amphawa. This really was one of the highlights of the holiday. Take away your pre-conceptions of busloads of tourists descending on the usual well-touted floating markets; this is the real deal. It’s a bit of a trek to get to (about an hour and a half each way), but well worth the effort. It’s less of a floating market than a grid of canals lined by beautiful teak shops with bags of old-world charm.
It’s a popular weekend day out for Thais coming from Bangkok, and it was packed (but only a handful of westerners). And the food – oh did I mention the food? The creativity in producing such an array of different snacks and dishes is unbelievable. My new favourite place.