My love affair with Thailand began on my first trip around the world in 2010. Bright eyed and eager I left the UK; human size backpack in tow, the world my oyster. My bank account (previously healthy) was drained by the delights of LA, New Zealand and Australia. It was not looking good for entering Asia.
So here it is, Thailand on a budget.
Where to go and how:
Start in Bangkok: visit the notorious Khao San Road and experience the miss-matched ensemble of bright lights, crazy tuk-tuk drivers, thriving street sellers and charismatic lady boys. Hostels on the Khao San itself are a little pricier, around 500 THB (£10) a night. At peak season, these include a rooftop pool if you wish! Or you can venture a little further to Rambuttri Road, and find a bed for as little as £3 with breakfast (just be aware of the four legged creatures who may have checked in!). Visit Bangkok’s Damnoen Saduak floating market; where all manners, niceties and western norms are thrown in the water. Your gondola is sure to be hooked and pulled from stall to stall by the lively locals, whilst you ingest the pungent smelling spices, both sweet and seductive. Once Bangkok is out of your system, book a night bus south to the islands. Word of advice: place all valuables on person in an oh-so-stylish ‘fanny pack’, that’s if you intend on still having them on your person in the morning. The night bus is not glamorous in any way, shape, or form, but it sure is cheap – costing around 600 THB (£12), which also includes a transfer boat.
Start your island hop at Koh Phi Phi, picture perfect and enticing. The Uphill “Resort” is cheap and cheerful, clean beds with towels provided and trustworthy friendly staff, the only catch – it most definitely is uphill. However, positives outweigh the negatives– Phi Phi is a relaxing heaven with the perfect amount of party – whether you chill on the rooftop at Banana Bar, drink buckets in the Irish Pub (in Thailand alcohol is served in buckets with no sense of measure) or dance the night away at Slinky’s on the beach. A visit to Maya Bay is a must; (the film set of ‘The Beach’), as is a hike to the island viewpoint. I would recommend waking with the birds in time for sunrise whilst the temperature is not too humid. Next stop Koh Phangan for an infamous full moon party in Haad Rin. Trust me, even if partying until sunrise is not your thing, it’s one for the bucket list, a euphoric once in a lifetime experience.
However it has lots more to offer than just one over populated beach full of partygoers. Hire a moped (prove you’ve ridden one) and head through the endless coconut plantations to the north of the island, past the breathtaking emerald mountains where hidden yoga retreats are a fraction of the cost on the main islands. Once you have recharged your batteries, go to Koh Tao, which has the added bonus of reasonably priced scuba diving. Complete your PADI diver’s qualification to unlock the underwater wonders Koh Tao has on offer, from the exotic marine creatures, to the enchanting underwater shipwrecks. Take the plunge! Before returning to the capital on the mainland, head north to Kanchanaburi where you can ride the “Death Railway”, spend the night on a house raft and visit the breathtaking Erawan Waterfalls! Chiang Mai is situated further north. However it oozes traditional culture and tradition whilst defining the term ‘hip’, with chic Thai-style boutique hotels aplenty, legendary mountains and historic temples. What to eat:
Eat like the locals; whether you dare embrace a spicy jungle curry, opt for the safe option – Pad Thai or sample a traditional Massaman curry, I assure you, you will not be disappointed! Each dish is infused with piquant spices, the flavors truly divine. Alongside the restaurants, street venders offer a variety of delectable Thai delights. Be sure to sample khanom krok (coconut pudding), homemade spring rolls (three for 50p) and Satay Gai (chicken satay); whilst sipping a refreshing watermelon and lychee shake.
Where to shop:
With regards to fashion, quite frankly, Thailand is unique! Think dubbed down Harashuku girls cross 90’s chic – outlandish whilst intriguing. Whilst mainland Thailand has many markets on offer, head further afield from the “fake” designer stalls on the Khao San; hidden gems aplenty. The boutique shops on the island of Phi Phi offer an array of western fashion at a fraction of the price – think embellished dresses, chiffon playsuits and studded handbags galore. Also Siam Square (Bangkok) hosts a cluster of stalls offering kitsch t-shirts, original silk dresses, vintage attire and handmade jewellery.
A few general facts:
– Massages cost pennies, indulge in a hot oil full body massage for around £3 (but never agree to a ‘happy ending’).
– Laundry costs 50THB per 1kg (that’s about £1) and comes back folded and fresh, (be careful-a pair of knickers went missing to be replaced with an Harley Davidson T-Shirt).
– If you pay a visit to the cinema, everyone stands prior to the film to worship the king.
– If you notice ‘fried friends’ on the menu, do not panic! There are no cannibals in Thailand, just a few translation issues. Fried friends: french fries.
– Be sure to remove your shoes upon entering shops/hostels, as a sign of respect.
– Although overnight boats are even cheaper than those in the day, be warned, it can be bumpy!
Before I end, my travels were far more enjoyable, interesting and amusing due to having a budget, so just have fun!