Located in the centre of south East Asia and bordered by Laos, Cambodia, Burma and Malaysia, Thailand has become a massive hot spot for tourists. It seems to cater for all, from the humble backpacker to the extravagant jet setter. With the contrast of ancient towns and temples in the north to the beautiful coastline dotted with islands in the south its popularity is not surprising.
Recently my girlfriend and I had a three-week holiday and joined the throng, but we wanted to find a piece of solitary bliss, a tropical island that selfishly would be ours. Was it possible in 2011 to find this secluded paradise when thousands of people visit Thailand each year?
Like most we landed in Bangkok, where we were instantly hit with the humidity, strange smells and the general congestion of this unfamiliar city. With no accommodation booked we wandered the busy streets in search of a cheap hotel or hostel. This somewhat haphazard task ended very quickly as there seemed to be places to stay on every corner. Prices for accommodation in Bangkok start from around twenty pounds, but donâ€™t expect luxury at these low prices. I would recommend visiting this city to anyone but it is easy to find it daunting. Bangkok in rush hour is a nightmare and crossing the street can be hazardous. Thaiâ€™s drive on the left-hand side of the road (most of the time) and it seems anything goes, with bigger vehicles taking priority.
The best thing about Bangkok is the food, it is everywhere; street vendors cook some of the tastiest dishes I have eaten and at a small cost. China town is a must visit, the friendly but crowded streets blended with the aroma of Oriental cuisine will get any visitor wanting to return. Just leave your travel guide back at the hotel and follow your nose.
We decided two nights was enough in Bangkok, even though you could easily spend a week or two there. Unfortunately we did not have enough time. So we booked a flight to Phuket and headed down towards the coast.
Phuket is the largest island in Thailand and is greeted by the Andaman Sea in the southwest; it is the main gateway to the other small islands in the area, where cheap ferry rides can be taken. On arrival we were advised to take a bus to Patong, as we were promised beautiful sandy bays and budget accommodation. The bus ride allowed me time to take in the scenery. I envy the first westerner who discovered Phuket the landscape is stunning. It has fantastic beaches with warm waters, lined with coconut trees but care must be taken as downingâ€™s are common.
These beautiful beaches are not a secret; thousands upon thousands of people come here each year to soak up the sun. My secluded paradise seemed completely impossible to find, as I looked at the hundreds of sun loungers in perfect rows along the whole length of the beach. Help came when I over heard a conversation by two Australianâ€™s when sitting down for an evening meal in one of the many restaurants on the beachfront. They had come back from Ko Phi Phi earlier that day and were chatting excitedly about their adventure. We found out that this small island was fifty kilometres away from Phuket, the ferry was inexpensive and the beaches were surprisingly empty, if true this was the destination we had hoped for. No time wasted the ferry was booked that evening through the hostel manager.
Ko Phi Phi was completely destroyed by the 2004 Tsunami, but as the ferry pulled into the pier the next morning it was obvious that the main town was crammed full of accommodation and thriving businesses. It is impossible to believe that the destruction that hit this little island actually happened. We soon realised that in peak season booking accommodation in the main part of the town is essential. I dreaded waiting for the next ferry back to Phuket just because we had not booked a place to sleep. My guidebook surfaced and saved the day. The first place we saw on the map was Hat Yao or Long beach and cost two pounds to get there by taxi boat. A traditional wooden boat with a massive diesel engine took us noisily around the coast to one of the most beautiful places I have been. We were welcomed by dazzling turquoise water, a white sandy beach and not a sun lounger in sight.
Even though you can never completely avoid tourists in Thailand, Phi Phi was deserted in comparison to Bangkok and Phuket. We had found paradise at last.
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