I’ve been to Thailand many times, and we often went around New Year’s for just two weeks to escape the winter in Europe (longer was not possible since my daughter was in school). The first few times, I loved it: the food, the beaches, the jungle in the north, even Bangkok with its traffic jams and pollution. However, as time passed and an increasing number of tourists arrived, including many on package tours, it became less and less attractive. Khaosan Road, which had previously only consisted of a few simple plasterboard guesthouses was a simple Thai neighborhood had spread out and is now filled with recently constructed hotels and restaurants as well as thousands of tourists. Koh Samui, where we stayed in simple huts with showers outside on a beach with only one other small hotel, has become a zoo with American fast-food restaurants, hotels down the whole beach even to areas not suitable for swimming (I wrote about it in my post “Paradises Lost”).
As a result, I was saddened on subsequent visits, although I know that this was inevitable and many Thais have benefited from the influx of tourist money. I certainly don’t blame them for taking advantage of the chance to change their lives from poor fishermen and villagers to well-to-do proprietors of guesthouses and restaurants.
On this trip, we only stayed in Bangkok for a short time, especially since we would be have to be back there for our flight home. The obligatory visit to the King’s Palace:
We quickly arranged for transport to Ko Chang not far from the Cambodian border. The beach was not bad, but the huts were dirty and the young guys running it seemed to have no interest in quality nor were there especially friendly.
We left the next day for a smaller island to the east, Ko Mak: harbor on the east coast of Ko Chang.
Ko Mak had beautiful beach and was not yet overrun with tourists, an almost-perfect place to start our trip (except for the sand fleas).
The bungalows were certainly more modern and expensive than ones I had stayed at years previously, but that was to be expected and they were a lot more comforable.
But we didn’t want to spend all our time at the beach and already had train tickets to Chiang Mai from Bangkok.
At the train station:
A station along the way:
The sleeping cars in Thailand are really comfortable and a great way to travel. The trip from Bangkok to Chiang Mai is overnight, but I have read that the Chinese are building an express rail route from Kunming through Chiang Mai to Bangkok. That would cut the travel time to a few hours and be the end of the overnight sleepers. In addition, it will mean that ever more Chinese tourists will flood the place: another inevitable change!.
On the way:
Chiang Mai still retained a lot of its charm with its temples.
We arranged for a jungle trip; first stop some very hot springs:
On the hike:
Our group with guide: it was nice that a woman with her young daughter was along. It reminded me of the times traveling in Thailand with my young daughter years previously.
Our guide provided some music in the evening.
Since it was around Christmas, appropriate headgear was provided.
Nice dinner prepared by our guide:
Back on the trail
The trip included a ride on an elephant.
This was followed by rafting. The current was rather fast at places, and it was not always easy to maneuver the rafts and keep standing.
We flew from Chiang Mai to the south and went directly to Ko Phangan. Unfortunately, most places were full, so we wound up at one with a less than optimum beach. Still, it was nice for a couple of days.
Good food, as almost everywhere in Thailand:
We decided to go to Koh Samui where I knew there was a good beach that was not too overcrowded. Unfortunately, the weather became quite bad with rain, a lot of wind and colder temperatures. I often had good weather there around New Year’s, but you cannot depend on that.
Back to Bangkok and the chance to savor Thai food in the alleyways near Koh San Road.
We flew to Bangkok two more times, but mainly to travel to Laos, Cambodia or Myanmar. I doubt whether I will ever go again, since I find it difficult not to compare how it is today with how I experienced it in the past. As the saying goes, “You can’t go home again” (I know, it was a novel). But I know that you should never say never. Maybe one day I will feel the need to escape the winter in Europe.