Places In Thailand - Page 1
This page is a summary of some of the places I have visited in Thailand with brief descriptions, photos and personal impressions. With places that I have visited more than once, my view of them may have changed over time especially if that location has undergone immense change, such as, Pattaya, Phuket, Khaolak, Samui, etc.
Pattaya was quite pleasant in 1987, but had changed beyond all recognition by 1992. The same applies to Phuket between 1992 and 1996. Even as late as the early 2000's, Khaolak was still a sleep and relatively unknown beach resort. However, the 2004 Asian tsunami put it firmly on the map and its character changed completely after the tsunami.
When I first visited Koh Samui in 1987 there were just coconut trees and small bungalows on the beach that used their own electricity generators. There was no airport, no mains electricity, no big hotels, no international hospitals, no department stores, etc etc. Some would argue that nowadays it is a lot more convenient with all the new amenities, but a price has been paid.
Be aware that my views are very different to that of the average tourist. If Thailand is my dream country, then Pattaya is my biggest nightmare. I tend not to like the major tourist resorts for a variety of very good reasons. The places I try to seek out are those that still remain relatively unspoilt from mass tourism. Unfortunately, these places are becoming quite rare in Thailand and I suspect that none will remain in another 20 years' time.
Temple in the old Siam capital of Ayuthaya
One of the old capitals. The Ayuthaya period was the most culturally rich in Thailand's history, and at its peak the city was said to be magnificent. Despite Burma's best efforts to complete destroy the city in 1767 a lot of the old temples still remain and are in fairly good condition for their age.
The red bricked temples and lush green lawns are beautiful. Ayuthaya is easily accessible from Bangkok and is well worth visiting.
See my Ayuthaya page for more photos and impressions.
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Bangkok is the first place that most foreign visitors to Thailand see as that is where the majority of international flights arrive, and I was no exception on my first visit to Thailand back in 1987. I have been many times but have never stayed for more than a week. It exhausts me. With so much concrete and tarmac the heat from the sun gets trapped and it always feels so incredibly hot. I always love the buzz of arriving in exciting Bangkok but after about four days I am ready to leave.
Thailand's capital is a huge, sprawling city and considerably larger in all respects than any other Thai city by a massive margin. There is a wealth of accommodation from backpacker hostels on the Khao Sarn Road to world-class hotels along the river, although my preference is for something in between. It is rich culturally with such buildings as the Grand Palace, Wat Pho, Wat Arun and several museums. The noise and pollution from traffic fumes, especially when the weather is hot and humid, can be quite overwhelming.
Bangkok has changed beyond recognition in the last few years. Development is going on at a frantic pace and the pollution levels aren't getting any better. The traditional Thai way of life is fast being eroded. Hardly anyone smiles or has time to talk in a country where generally everyone loves to smile and talk.
After having lived in provincial Thailand for several years it has given me a different perspective on Bangkok compared to when I used to arrive as a tourist. For a start it seems expensive. I never thought this before but the tendency is to compare prices with where you have just arrived from. Compared to London it is cheap, but compared to a Thai provincial town it is very expensive. There are lots of tourists and, as a result, lots of Thais who make a living preying on tourists.
At almost every location where tourists visit in Bangkok there are opportunist Thais around trying to scam a few Baht out of them. Such is life in a big city. Another thing that struck me was the appearance and behaviour of farang tourists. To be frank some of the sights I have seen make me squirm with embarrassment.
I have put together some thoughts and views from recent trips to Bangkok, 'Bangkok Revisited'.
Bangkok has a reputation for its nightlife and first-time visitors should definitely take a look at what goes on, but I have found that seeing it once is enough. I was intrigued and quite fascinated by some of the nightlife back in 1987 but on repeat visits found it quite boring.
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Thai culture in Chiang Mai
My first visit to Chiang Mai was in December 2001/January 2002 and I came away very disappointed because my expectations were a lot higher. I'd heard a lot about Thailand's second biggest city and how pleasant it was compared to Bangkok.
I had a vision in my mind how it would look (very green, relaxed and lots of teak buildings) but it was nothing like my vision. Interestingly enough, when I went to Bali for the first time a couple of years later, Bali was how I had hoped Chiang Mai would have been.
Chiang Mai is where many hill tribe trekking tours start from. I didn't go on a hill tribe trek but spent a day river rafting and elephant riding. It was okay but very touristy. The villagers who live in the area all rush out holding items to sell as the tourists go by and the tourists point cameras at them to take photos. It was all very artificial and made me feel a little uncomfortable.
More Thai culture in Chiang Mai
I returned to Chiang Mai for a visit in October 2009. I found that in less than eight years the city has been turned into an enormous tourist grotto. It's basically Patong beach without the beach.
This tackiness and Westernisation suits many farangs, apparently. When I visited Chiang Rai in 2006, a brochure I read said that over 10,000 foreigners lived permanently in Chiang Mai. Nowadays that figure must be a lot higher. That's in addition to the hundreds of thousands of tourists that visit each year.
Backpackers in Chiang Mai
I hated it. In the night bazaar area every single business caters to tourists. You can't find any signs of real Thai life because there aren't any.
There are taxi drivers, touts, guides, and Indian tailors everywhere trying to get a piece of the tourism pie using whatever means they can. Most farangs walking around look as if they would be a lot more at home at Blackpool pleasure beach but this is what tourist areas of Thailand have turned into.
Tacky T-shirts, Chiang Mai
For the sexpats and sex tourists there are bars and bargirls on Loi Kroh road, and for the tourists without a clue there are cheap souvenirs and tacky T-shirts.
The city has completely sold out to tourism and consequently there is a glut of accommodation options. Inevitably, there are lots of backpackers and they can get cheap rooms for Bt100.
You will find branches of every single Western fast-food chain you can think of. My comments only apply to Chiang Mai main town. I am sure that the other districts within Chiang Mai province are a lot better.
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Wat Phra Sing, Chiang Rai
I regard Thailand as about the most perfect country in the world and after I finally managed to visit Chiang Rai after years of complacency I found it to be about the most perfect place in Thailand (for me personally).
It is an area of outstanding natural beauty and home to some of the friendliest Thais I have ever met. Also in its favour is a lack of sleaze, such as you will find in many of Thailand's tourist resorts.
My visit has caused me to think quite seriously about a permanent move there some time in the future. For more thoughts and photos see my Chiang Rai page.
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Pigs' heads for sale in Chumphon
When farangs tell you about Chumphon most will say, "There is nothing there." The majority of foreigners only stay in Chumphon while travelling to or from Ko Tao. I'm different though. I didn't like Ko Tao at all but I enjoyed Chumphon and felt quite at home there.
In many ways it reminded me of Hat Yai. It is quite large for a provincial Thai city and it is a real, working town. Overall it is probably cleaner and doesn't have the large Muslim population that Hat Yai has but, like Hat Yai, I noticed a lot of Chinese.
There are several markets around town that operate at different times - morning, day and night. Transport connections are pretty good as it is on the main route going through the Isthmus of Kra. Chumphon is not actually on the coast but there are beaches nearby. Again, all of these statements apply to Hat Yai as well.
Chumphon has miles of coastline and deserted beaches with hardly a foreign tourist in sight
Because it is a jumping off point for Ko Tao there are quite a few farangs around but they tend to be transient.
The beach is a 20 minute sawng-thaew ride away. Sawng-thaews leave from the day market and the fare is very cheap (just Bt10 when I went). It's actually a very pretty piece of coast with very few tourists. It makes you wonder why on earth people want to go to over-priced, over-rated tourist traps like Phuket when places like this exist?
Chumphon Cabana Resort and Diving Center
I took a look around the Chumphon Cabana Resort and Diving Center at Thung Wua Laen beach as it was recommended by several people in town. It's a relaxing place and I was very impressed with the sound environmental practices they have. For instance, they treat all their waste water naturally, filtering it through water hyacinths. This is referred to as a 'natural kidney'.
They are experimenting with water-cooled walls in their rooms to eliminate the need for air-conditioning units. Guests can stroll around the grounds to see their environmental policies in action. Organic rice is grown and milled using traditional methods before being served in the hotel restaurant.
Accommodation at Chumphon Cabana ranges from Bt1,260 to Bt2,200 depending on the type of room and whether it is high or low season. Tel. +66 (0) 7756 0245-7
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This famous Thai floating market is just a big tourist trap, unfortunately
I, like millions of other tourists who go to Thailand, took a day trip from Bangkok to visit the famous floating market at Damnoen Saduak. I was hoping to witness an authentic part of Thai daily life while meandering around the canals. I was quite disappointed.
It is just a big tourist trap. There are no Thai shoppers at the market, just foreign tourists. Consequently, what is being sold is aimed at foreign tourists so the vendors concentrate on selling souvenir trinkets and the Thai equivalent of 'Kiss me quick' hats. I wanted to relax and take some photos but was constantly harassed by vendors touting for business. It wasn't at all what I had hoped for.
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Karaoke bar, Dannok
Dannok, in many respects, is a typical border town. It sits on the Thai/Malaysian border and there is absolutely nothing there. However, it has been growing in recent years at a staggering pace. Why?
Like many border towns, there is an opportunity to supply commodoties between two adjoining countries. If a commodity is easily obtainable on one side of the border but not the other, then people can make money.
Malaysia is a Muslim country with some fairly strict Islamic laws. However, the country has large ethnic Chinese and Indian populations who do not adhere to Islamic laws. Malaysia can be quite restrictive for them but there is an easy solution just over the border in Thailand.
I've written here about Dannok if you would like more details.
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Dannok is a small place and hotel booking sites don't list it separately. It is located in the Sadao district of Songkhla province. You may need to search on Sadao or Songkhla to find hotels in Dannok.
Hat Yai cable car
I know Hat Yai well. It's the biggest city in southern Thailand (although still tiny compared to Bangook), and also southern Thailand's major transport hub.
Outside of Bangkok, it is probably the most cosmopolitan city in Thailand. There are large local Muslim and Chinese populations, as well as lots of ethnic Chinese tourists from Malaysia and Singapore.
The cuisine ranges from traditional Thai to southern Thai dishes (such as gairng som), but it is just as easy to find Muslim dishes with roti, and Chinese dishes from Betong. Along with the different kinds of food you will hear Thai central, Isaan and southern dialects, and Malay and Chinese dialects all in the same places.
You can find lots more information in my Hat Yai Visitor's Guide
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Kamphaeng Phet historical park
Because of bus timetables it was convenient for me to stop at Kamphaeng Phet on the way from Bangkok to Mae Sot. On my way to Sukothai a few years ago the bus had passed through Kamphaeng and it looked like an interesting place so I was quite looking forward to visiting.
In its favour, there is virtually no tourist infrastructure and therefore it is an authentic piece of Thailand. It is home to a UNESCO certified historical park with the remains of 40 old temples - similar to Ayuthaya and Sukothai.
The park is beautifully kept and birdwatchers will have a great time because it is full of exotic Southeast Asian birdlife.
Kamphaeng Phet historical park
Unfortunately, apart from the historical park, there is nothing really of any interest in the town and the Thais living and working in Kamphaeng Phet look really bored.
I like - and actively seek out - places in Thailand without tourists. I can normally find lots of things of interest in these places but Kamphaeng was an exception. I spent virtually a whole day wandering around looking for something of interest but couldn't find anything.
I therefore wasn't too disappointed to leave and I won't be returning in a hurry.
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The famous Bridge Over the River Kwai
Kanchanaburi is a large province, the third largest in Thailand after Nakhon Ratchasima and Chiang Mai. It is also a very pretty province. Travelling by bus from Bangkok is a very pleasant experience as you leave ugly urban areas and start to see vast tracts of lush vegetation. En route, there are huge rice paddies. I don't think there is a more pleasant colour than the particular shade of green of young rice plants.
The bus journey from Bangkok's northern bus terminal - Mo Chit - takes around two-and-a-half hours, and it cost me Bt90.
I would imagine that most tourists going to Kanchanaburi go there to visit the infamous River Kwai bridge and allied POW war cemeteries. That's what I did at first before moving on to Sangkhlaburi district..
A visit to the Death War Museum brought home to me just how cruel the Japanese had been to POWs. In the Japanese Imperial army it was commonplace for officers to dish out corporal punishment to lower ranked Japanese officers.
Those in charge of the POWs were very lowly-ranked and had probably suffered a lot of abuse from above. They in turn took out their anger and frustration on the POWs. The abuse was terrible. Up to 28 men slept in tents designed for eight in the middle of the jungle with no protection from mosquitoes, lice and leeches.
Their diet was totally inadequate for men carrying out hard physical labour; they were beaten and had no proper toilet facilities or medical care. Those men who were too ill to work had their rations stopped as an incentive to get them back to work - which or course only made their condition worse.
They suffered from malaria, cholera, beri-beri and other tropical diseases yet were still forced to do hard work in the tropical heat. It must have been hell.
Allied POW graves, Kanchanaburi
The war graves are beautifully looked after
A fascinating museum but it left me wondering how it was possible for human beings to be so inhumane to each other
The cemeteries are beautifully kept. The one I visited (Don Rak) contains the graves of allied British and Dutch soldiers. What I always saddest of all about WW1 and WW2 war memorials is the age of the soldiers, some of whom were in their teens or early 20's when they were killed. It is tragic.
The museum adjacent to Don Rak cemetery is excellent and cost me just Bt60.
Apart from WW2 memories there are a lot of places to visit in Kanchanaburi which I didn't see. There are temples, old ruins, caves, waterfalls, museums, national parks and one temple which is a refuge for wild tigers and other animals.
There is a tourist information office on the main road near the bus station which can provide more information.
Because of the amount of tourists visiting Kanchanaburi there is a lot of accommodation. Near the River Kwai bridge are many guest houses offering budget accommodation and in town there are several hotels.
Each year in late November an event is staged known as 'River Kwai Bridge week'. It's a big festival where an allied bombing raid is enacted. This is a big draw for both tourists and Thais and the town gets packed. If you plan to visit then it is advisable to pre-book accommodation, but during the rest of the year accommodation is normally easy to find when you turn up.
From Bangkok there is a special train which leaves Bangkok at 6:30am on Saturdays, Sundays and bank holidays. It stops at Nakhon Pathom (a lovely place) and passes through the Kanchanaburi countryside before going across the River Kwai bridge. It goes on to a waterfall before making the journey back to Bangkok, returning at around 8pm. I haven't done this trip myself but would like to sometime in the future. It sounds great.
The Thai word that sounds like 'Kwai' written in English means buffalo. The name of the river here is more accurately transliterated as 'Kwair'.
The grave of an allied soldier with Canadian and Scottish connections
The train ride out from Bangkok is very popular and needs to be booked in advance
A WW2 bomb and the famous bridge in the background
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Thailand is an incredibly photogenic country, both for its landscapes and its people. Regardless of whether you enjoy large Asian cities, beaches and islands, or rice fields and mountains, Thailand has something for you and it is a dream destination for photographers.
One of the great things about visiting Thailand is that hotels are plentiful and a lot cheaper than in most other countries. Each link on the right will take you to the relevant page on the Agoda website where you can see photos, read reviews, and book on-line. I use Agoda to book all of my own hotels in Thailand and the Southeast Asia region. Agoda hotel rates are usually always the lowest and I have received good customer service, therefore I am happy to recommend the company to other people. Here is some analysis I did regarding booking hotels in Southeast Asia.
Booking.com used to be more expensive than Agoda, but when I have checked hotel prices recently I have found their rates to be quite competitive. Unlike Agoda, you don't need to pay at the time of booking with Booking.com - you can simply pay at the hotel when you check in. Also, Booking.com show you total prices whereas Agoda show you a price and then add on 17% for tax and service charge.
If you wish to compare prices between different on-line travel agents (OTAs) for a specific hotel, you can use a company such as HotelsCombined.
Images of Thailand