The Thai Way

Couldn’t have gifted myself a better end to 2017 than a Thailand trip. 2017 has been a year of travel for me, of which Seychelles and Thailand will top the list without an iota of doubt. Earlier I thought I was equally inclined towards mountains and beaches but now that’s beginning to change and I feel I am more of a waterbaby. Thailand will also be memorable for ticking an important thing off the bucket list: SCUBA DIVING. Yes, I finally dived in the middle of a beautiful ocean only to be surrounded by colourful fishes. In this blog I will mostly be writing about the entire trip, where all I went and stayed. I will also be doing another post soon on all the cafes, restaurants I visited during the trip.

Day 1: Bangkok. We reached our hostel Here hostel in the heart of Bangkok city around 2 pm after a long journey only to crash in our cosy room for a while before we headed to explore some night markets and the city life. We wanted to take it slow and retire early so as to be fresh for the drive next day. Yes, Thailand has been a first legit road trip for us. My boyfriend and I drove to the different islands through road, at some places we had to ferry the car. It was a fun, tiring drive.

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Slide your way through hostel dorms at Here

We went to the popular Platinum Shopping Mall and the Saphan Phut Night Market in Bangkok as we wanted to stock up on some beach essentials. Platinum Mall has a lot of options for women and just one floor for men (that’s a pity) but you have to have the patience to scout the best shops and bargain for everything that you buy. There are some cute shops such as Moshi Moshi where you can buy things like headphones, neck pillows, stationery, mobile covers, hand bags etc. Saphan Phut is the street parallel to Platinum Mall and it had all kinds of stuff at half the price than inside the mall but the quality of clothes was rather ordinary and didn’t seem long lasting.

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After roaming the streets for a while, we wanted to have a good meal and while driving around in search of some eatery, we accidentally took a wrong route and ended up reaching Sukhumvit area through a toll road. Bangkok is full of toll roads and if you are not careful you will end up spending so much money on tollways. But I am glad we reached Sukhumvit cause we got to eat authentic pad thai noddles and a hot broth full of veggies at Tamnak Isan Ekamai where the meals are prepared by traditional Isan people of Thai region.

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Day 2: After having a sumptuous breakfast of waffle and fruits at Here (don’t miss the breakfast), we started our drive towards Hua Hin, which is touted to be a romantic destination in Thailand. We don’t know why but I guess the laid back vibe and the pleasant weather kind of makes everyone cosy. The weather in Hua Hin was cold as compared to Bangkok with cold winds and rains, for which we were unprepared for. The weather didn’t let us do anything except indulge in some refreshing massage. The location of our hostel was right in the heart of the busy street which was in proximity to all the popular cafes and restaurants. We walked to the night market on the evening we arrived and bought a bunch of stuff, including these really comfortable trainers for just 500 baht. The streets are lined with crepe and coconut stalls every few mins and that was our dinner for the evening.

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Jetty hostel in Hua Hin is a newly opened hostel and the owner Cap, being an architect has designed the interiors himself. In the entrance lobby are these beautifully designed suitcases that adorn the wall that he has cut from old suitcases of his grandmother. Throughout the hostel there are these pretty corners with wooden work. The view from the terrace is the uninterrupted ocean view.

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Day 3: We went to the historical Hua Hin railway station which is considered to be one of the attractions in the town. It’s a small station where hoards of tourists had gathered just to click pictures. A must visit if you enjoy old architecture.

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Pretty. Isn’t it?

Day 4: We started our drive to Krabi early in the morning around 9 am since it was a long 6-7 hours drive and we wanted to reach before sunset. We had a great breakfast at Velo cafe (more information on this in my next post) and headed straight to our next destination. The drive to Krabi is the most prettiest drive in the entire Thailand. We found ourselves driving amidst huge palm trees and limestone mountains that glow at night. We were staying in this beautiful guesthouse Aonang Guesthouse and the owner, Tin was really sweet to help us with kind suggestions and places to visit nearby to make the most of our limited stay. Again this guesthouse was very close to the popular sunset point at Ao Nang Beach and the entire market area in Krabi. On our first evening, we just walked to the market, had a nice meal at a cafe nearby and retired since we were tired after all the driving.

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Drive to Krabi

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View from Ao Nang Guesthouse

Day 5: We woke up and went to the popular hot springs which is an hour’s drive from Ao Nang. It’s advisable to rent a bike if you don’t have a personal mode of transport since cabs are quite expensive in Krabi. We thought that the Hot Springs will be crowded and full of people but when we reached there, we were surprised to find only few people. It’s located in a secluded place amidst a huge fancy property. There are these mini pools before the actual hot springs where you can start by dipping your feet and then once your body has gotten used to the temperature, you can proceed to immersing yourself in the pool. It’s really fascinating as to how a certain part of the pool is warm and then the lower bottom where the water opens is cold. It’s also advisable not to be in the warm water for a prolonged period since it can drain you.

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A mini warm pool

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Hot Spring

We were here for a good two-three hours before we arrived at Ao Nang beach for the beautiful sunset.

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Ao Nang Beach

Day 6: We left Ao Nang shortly after breakfast to start our drive towards Donsak from where we had to take a ferry to Koh Samui. The ferry port at Donsak is huge and beautiful. We had to wait there for an hour for our ferry. We managed to reach Koh Samui only by late evening and the hostel where we were supposed to stay (P168) missed our booking and we were transferred to another hotel which was on the party street of Chaweng Beach in Samui.

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Donsak Raja Ferry port

We went to party at the famous Ark Bar on Chaweng beach. I really enjoyed being there. The music, fire show and the vibe was really good.

Day 7: We moved to another hostel Chill In near Lamai beach in Samui and before heading there we had one of the best breakfasts of our trip at Tanya’s cafe. Chill In hostel was situated right at the beach and during evenings and early mornings, the waves used to hit the edge of the parapet. On our way to the hostel, we passed this beautiful viewpoint from where you could see the entire ocean and it was a pretty sight. We spent the day chilling at the hostel and playing some interesting card games with fellow hostel mates.

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The Viewpoint

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Chill In hostel

Day 8: This was New years eve day and we wanted to rest it out as much as we could so as to be all pumped up for the night. We were going for the full moon party to Koh Phangan. We paid 2300 baht for a couple that would take us by a speedboat to Phangan and bring us back at any time in the wee hours. The speedboat ride was quite bumpy and we were glad to have made it alive. The full moon beach was crowded with thousands of people and it was difficult to even walk your way to the beach. I don’t think I will ever be back to a full moon party because one has to be completely drunk to enjoy these kind of parties and I realised that it’s not my thing.

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Day 9: We had an early morning ferry to catch to Koh Tao, which was going to be our last island destination for the trip and we were particularly very excited because we were going to be diving for the first time ever. Koh Tao is a relatively smaller island as compared to the rest of them that it almost feels like a small town/ village. There might not be as many 7 Elevens (a popular supermarket chain in Thailand. You’ll find them every few metres wherever you go) in Koh Tao as there are diving schools. We just relaxed the day we arrived as we were very tired from partying the earlier night so we just walked around, had thai food at a popular restaurant right next to our hostel. We were staying at a great hostel, The Dearly hostel in Koh Tao. I think it’s the biggest hostel in Koh Tao, also walking distance from the ferry pier. It is huge, spacious and has clean rooms.

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Day 10: And the D- day was here. I had contemplated diving so much only because I was suffering from a severe toothache which was making it very difficult for me to even talk but the people at Ozone Diving School assured me that if I did everything slowly, it wouldn’t affect and since I was in Koh Tao to dive, I couldn’t have not done it. We arrived at the diving school at 11 in the morning and our instructor, a South American guy now living in Thailand explained us few basics before we left to go to the island. He was a sweet and motivating instructor and it’s important to have a good instructor who will just motivate you to have fun under water. We went to another island Koh Nangyuan to dive, which is an extremely beautiful island.

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As usual, we were having the pre-dive jitters like everyone does and since there were too many things to remember, we kept clarifying them again and again before we actually jumped. While wearing the suit and the gear before the dive, the oxygen cylinder that goes on your back is the heaviest and jumping with that weight was quite scary but if you follow the instructions it’s pretty simple. Once we jumped, I was like that’s it? Is that all we had to do.  The marine life underwater is absolutely breathtaking. From beautiful shaped corals to different varieties of fish ranging from angelfish to barracuda, neon damsels, parrotfish, horsefish etc. I saw all kinds of fishes at Japanese Gardens in Koh Nangyuan. It is considered to be one of the best diving destinations in the world. No wonder there are tons of diving schools in Koh Tao and each school is equally competitive than the other. After doing this try dive, I am very sure of going for a full fledged diving course so that I can dive anywhere in the world.

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Enjoying the sunset post diving

Day 11: We were on the road the entire day driving back to Bangkok which was in all a 16 hours journey, two ferry rides over 4 hours and then 11 hours of driving. It was the longest and tiring drive of our lives. We finally reached the Yard Hostel in Bangkok late in the night. This is another hostel which is beautiful. They serve basic yet filling breakfast in the morning and they have this fancy burger place in their premises, Paper Butter which is famous for their charcoal burgers.

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Day 12: This was the final day of our trip which was spent shopping on the streets of Bangkok, buying gifts for family and friends.

Some tips if you are planning a Thailand trip:

  1. One mistake we did was not calculate the distances between two destinations and in the process when we reached a certain place we were so exhausted by the end of the it that we just wanted to crash. And eventually we were left with just one day or one and a half day to spend in that place.
  2. One thing I learnt the hard way was: never ever forget to carry your medication. Although you get the basic paracetamol tablets there but antibiotics are difficult to find and they are very expensive.
  3. It’s better to have your own mode of transport since taxis around islands is expensive so once you take a ferry to a certain island, just hire a bike. We hired a car from the airport since we wanted to do a road trip and it still proved to be extremely cost effective.
  4. There are great hostels in Thailand, one of the best I have experienced so far in any country. So don’t waste money on hotels, stay in hostels while in Thailand.
  5. Stay in each island for atleast 3-4 days so as to enjoy it to the fullest.
  6. Lastly: eat local. Thai food is one of the best cuisines in the world.

 

 

All images © Kainat27

Paragliders Paradise

It’s been a while since I wrote about my getaways although I have taken a couple of them in the last few months. Recently, a friend of mine went to Himachal on a backpacking trip without any agenda and ended up in this village Bir Billing, which is famous for paragliding for almost ten days doing random things with the villagers there and had amazing stories to share. And that was when I thought, this could be the perfect place to escape from all the work pressure that drives me insane here in Mumbai. To tell you the truth, this has been one of my budget friendly trips in a long time.

Bir is a two hour drive from Dharamshala. Since I couldn’t get cheap flight ticket to Dhramshala due to India New Zealand ODI, I decided to go via Delhi as I am also not a big fan of spending hours in buses. It makes me sick. So I got a cheap return airfare to Delhi and from there I took a train to Pathankot. There are trains from Chandigarh as well but I preferred Delhi. From Pathankot, Bir was a 4 hour drive (around 145 kms) and since my train reached Pathankot in the wee hours of morning, I reached Bir at 7 am. While boarding a taxi, its important to negotiate with the driver so as to reach the best price possible and if you have people sharing with you, boom! Staying in hostels has become an integral part of my travel so even this time I stayed at Zostel Bir. It’s a recently opened property and definitely one of the best.

Zostel at Bir is run by two engineers who quit their jobs to pursue their passion and love for creating an eco friendly vacation getaway. They plan to extend the idea to encourage corporates to plan meetings integrated with vacation for families in an interesting way.

The food at Zostel is delicious especially their parathas, omlettes and daal. They have a cool lounge like setup on the terrace where one could enjoy the sunset with piping coffee or tea admiring clear sky changing hues over the green mountains.

There isn’t much to do post sunset in mountains. That is the time when you engage in interesting conversations with the locals, hear stories of other fellow travellers, enjoy some drinks with strangers before retiring in the comfortable dorm beds at the hostel. The hostel is reasonably priced, boasts good cleanliness and hygiene.

Next day, I rented a bicycle and rode uphill to a monastery. It was physically exhausting as the route was narrow and full of curves. There were times when the incline was so steep that I couldn’t peddle after a point and used to start sliding down, so I had to get down and walk. Once I reached the monastery, the feeling of achievement was thrilling and the place was grand so to speak. It is one of the biggest training institutes for monks in Asia and quite heartening to see them pray and share a glimpse of their routine with strangers.

Next on the agenda was paragliding. I have never ever done any aerial adventurous sport before and there were butterflies in my tummy before I went for my jump. There’s a pilot who accompanies you on the jump. I can’t really explain the feeling in words but the initial couple of minutes that I was in air, I was just smiling throughout and talking to the vast universe which embraced me in its warmth. It was cold up there and my pilot was worried since I wasn’t shouting or exclaiming, which could be a common form of expression for others. But little did he know that I was happy and it was a great feeling within. Towards the last lap of my landing, I was actually starting to feel sick because if you are going to do paragliding with the expectation of thrill then it might just disappoint you. It’s more meditative than adrenaline.

After Bir, I descended down to Mcleodganj. Although in hindsight, I wish I could’ve stayed at Bir a little longer as you start gelling in the vibe of the place only after two-three days and by the time I had started enjoying the calmness around me, it was time to leave. Mcleodganj was a sudden plan as I was joining a few friends there but I know I will be back to Bir soon. The only cafe I went to in Bir was Silver Lining cafe and fortunately I was their first customer. The guy there makes amazing cafe mocha. Make sure you guys try it out when you’re there.

Mcleodganj was commercial and surrounded by tourists. It’s good for shopping and cafes. Thanks to international travellers there has been an increase in the number of cafes at such places in the last 2-3 years. I stayed at this hotel called Zambala and it was a decent hotel. The room was clean, nice and comfortable. And since it was in the centre of the city, we could just walk to the nearby places. Some of the favourite cafes that I went to are:

1. Shambhala restaurant: they are good with their breakfast and coffee but I didn’t quite enjoy the food there especially their momos. They were huge and didn’t taste as good as the ones you get on the street. Personally, one should go for the street side momos rather than the restaurant ones. Shambhala did have good thukpa though.

2. Illiterati Cafe: I went here twice and I must admit that it is one of the best cafes I’ve ever been to. It’s a huge cafe integrated with a bookstore and a mini terrace kind of setting. Fortunately I was there during full moon day and I could witness the moonrise from behind the mountains illuminating our tiny table with its full might. Everything on their menu is droolworthy, be it coffee, sandwiches or burger.

3. Moonpeak Espresso: another favourite cafe of mine for breakfast. It’s a tiny cafe located in a busy shopping lane. A must try for coffee and chicken sandwiches.

4. Shiva cafe: one of the most popular cafes of India, to be honest I was a bit tad underwhelmed by it. Firstly, it’s located on top of a mountain so the trek is literally exhausting and then the food (not that I tried anything fancy) is nothing to rave about either. It’s just the location that attracts people and the not-so-great view from the top. The only good thing was the fresh mountain water from the tap which you’ll need after the tiring steep trek!

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5. McLlo: perhaps the most famous Indian restaurant in the entire Mcleoganj only cause it has host the cricket team from India and elsewhere. The entire place is full of photos of all the popular cricketers with the owner and the food was just like any other Indian restaurant but the apple cider beer is something that could be given a try there. Good place to drink and chill with friends.

There is also a small village Nadi near Mcledoganj city where we took a cab while going and because we wanted to enjoy the sunset, we trekked all the way down from the valley. It was a beautiful little trek and I’d advise you to try it too. You’ll find the descending walk down the narrow green valley exciting and peaceful.

This was perhaps one of my most commercial hill experience, barring Bir ofcourse. In my next blog, I’ll write about my experience of Leh Ladakh where I went in July this year.

All Images © Kainat27