Backpacking South East Asia: Enticing Thailand

Tripoto
15th Dec 2013
Photo of Backpacking South East Asia: Enticing Thailand 1/16 by Arundhati Sridhar
Longtail boats competing for attention at Rai
Photo of Backpacking South East Asia: Enticing Thailand 2/16 by Arundhati Sridhar
Fishies!
Photo of Backpacking South East Asia: Enticing Thailand 3/16 by Arundhati Sridhar
White and blue for as far as your eyes can se
Photo of Backpacking South East Asia: Enticing Thailand 4/16 by Arundhati Sridhar
Sunset on Tub Island
Photo of Backpacking South East Asia: Enticing Thailand 5/16 by Arundhati Sridhar
Green mango salad -- a little piece of heaven
Photo of Backpacking South East Asia: Enticing Thailand 6/16 by Arundhati Sridhar
The nose-bleed stairs up Wat Arun
Photo of Backpacking South East Asia: Enticing Thailand 7/16 by Arundhati Sridhar
Sukhothai Historical Park
Photo of Backpacking South East Asia: Enticing Thailand 8/16 by Arundhati Sridhar
The Grand Palace, Bangkok
Photo of Backpacking South East Asia: Enticing Thailand 9/16 by Arundhati Sridhar
Wat Pho by night - oriental fairyland
Photo of Backpacking South East Asia: Enticing Thailand 10/16 by Arundhati Sridhar
The Bridge on the River Kwai
Photo of Backpacking South East Asia: Enticing Thailand 11/16 by Arundhati Sridhar
Picture of the original bridge on the river K
Photo of Backpacking South East Asia: Enticing Thailand 12/16 by Arundhati Sridhar
Camping at Erawan National Park
Photo of Backpacking South East Asia: Enticing Thailand 13/16 by Arundhati Sridhar
Erawan waterfalls
Photo of Backpacking South East Asia: Enticing Thailand 14/16 by Arundhati Sridhar
Erawan waterfalls
Photo of Backpacking South East Asia: Enticing Thailand 15/16 by Arundhati Sridhar
The ruins at Sukhothai
Photo of Backpacking South East Asia: Enticing Thailand 16/16 by Arundhati Sridhar
Our bungalows on the Noppharat Thara beach

Thailand is, in many ways, like the girl every guy had a crush on in high school. Unquestionably stunning. And undoubtedly aware of it. Her every enviable feature is amply highlighted, but she still manages to tantalize, to weave a spell, to get you to come back despite being constantly flocked by her many admirers.

With just two weeks in the country, not nearly enough to traipse across its length and breadth, we chose to leave Northern Thailand (and all its mountainous, Mekong-y glory) for another day. We traveled, instead, down to the emerald-watered, white-sanded, picture-postcard beaches of Krabi, zipping around on our motoscooters, taking longtail-boat rides and generally indulging our laziest bone. After busting the (backpacker) bank at our very first stop, we headed to Bangkok -- she of the bustling streets and peaceful pagodas, the spicy food and tranquil gardens, the intense shopping and quiet ferry-rides -- a city with an allure that grows on you in ways that you cannot quite grasp, and before you know it, you're in another foreign country and intensely craving the tangy assault of the Som Tam from the vendor across the street from your hotel. It is a world all its own.

When we finally managed to wean ourselves off the magnetism of Bangkok and get on the road again, we discovered that tucked into nearly every corner of Thailand is a little gem. So whether it is the wonderfully nostalgia-evoking bridge on the River Kwai at Kanchanaburi, or the seven-tiered turquoise waterfalls at the Erawan National Park a couple of hours away, or even the gracefully wise old ruins at Sukhothai, it is a mosaic of experiences as rich as they are different. Good luck trying to get bored!

Photo credits: Shashwat Sridhar

...

PS: In all this, it is increasingly apparent that tourism in Thailand has made sure that none of these places remain a secret. But what they have also (miraculously) managed is leaving you with an experience that feels unsoiled. Now if you're going to complain about crowds, you're barking up the wrong tree. I'm from India. Every other place simply pales in comparison.

What do I say about this chaotic, cluttered and utterly arresting city that has not already been said? Take it in through all your senses. Spend a day on the ferry, shuttling up and down the mighty Chao Phraya river, disembark at all the main stops, climb up the scarily steep steps at Wat Arun, take in the Bangkok skyline, admire Wat Pho by dusk and watch it turn into an oriental fairyland as the lights turn on after dark, all this while munching on some fresh fruit you picked up from the push-cart in the vicinity. 

Spend another day just strolling about, take a canal ferry to the Jim Thompson house, admire the graceful teakwood structures, take a metro to Lumphini Park and paddle around the lake as the sun sets against the huge buildings tucked behind the lush tree cover. Spend a third taking the skytrain to Chatuchak market and indulging in an unparalleled shopping experience. But whatever you do, train your eyes and nose to be on the lookout for just about any kind of street food: papaya salad, raw fruits, tom yum, pad thai, coconut ice cream. If its on the street in Bangkok, you can rest assured it will be nothing less than the most delicious thing you have ever put into your mouth. After a while, you will find yourself following your tongue rather than your map, and when you do, you will have truly arrived.

Photo of Lumpini Park Pathum Wan Bangkok Thailand by Arundhati Sridhar
Photo of Lumpini Park Pathum Wan Bangkok Thailand by Arundhati Sridhar
Photo of Lumpini Park Pathum Wan Bangkok Thailand by Arundhati Sridhar

It is no secret that the entire southern coastline of Thailand reads like a list of the most gorgeous beaches in the world, so you can't really go wrong with any place you pick. Krabi, therefore, was a fairly random dart-on-the-map choice, but blessed be that dart -- for it turned out to be one of the most unforgettable vignettes from the trip. As soon as you land in the cozy airport, there is a charm about the place that is immediately apparent. 

The drive towards the coast is characterized by limestone karsts appearing one after another on the horizon, each larger and more awe-inspiring than the previous. The main beach here -- Ao Nang -- rolls into view as if from a glossy magazine centerspread: endless stretches of emerald blue water turning into froth at the touch of the white sand, with longtail boats gently rocking to the rhythm, sticking their elegant necks out in perfect symmetry. As you go through your days here, though, you realise nearly everything is a picture postcard. Not just the many ridiculously perfect-looking beaches, but also the pristine coast-hugging roads, the quirky roadside shacks, heck -- even the shop-lined streets. 

Book a longtail boat to take you to Railay Beach for a sunset, or a speedboat to take you on a tour of farther island, or simply ride around a motoscooter and find your own little piece of this paradise. Beware of catching a serious case of the lazies though. Nothing spells vacation like this place. ... PS: If you have the patience for a much more wordy account of our time in Krabi, follow this link: http://bit.ly/1cmvJPQ

Photo of Railay Beach Ao Nang Krabi Thailand by Arundhati Sridhar
Photo of Railay Beach Ao Nang Krabi Thailand by Arundhati Sridhar

While in Krabi, we stayed at a wonderful set of beach-side bungalows (slightly out of the backpacker budget, but really not as expensive as they sound) on the Noppharat Thara beach. Called Blue Bayou, it was definitely one of the better decisions of the trip. The staff is extremely helpful, free maps are available, the bungalows themselves are clean and quite cozy, and the location is brilliant. The staff will also rent you motoscooters (in mint condition) and book tours on request. We booked the seven island tour (which you can read about in the link that I shared in the previous spot description), and it was a wonderful experience, no hitches.

Photo of Noppharat Thara Beach Ao Nang Krabi Thailand by Arundhati Sridhar
Photo of Noppharat Thara Beach Ao Nang Krabi Thailand by Arundhati Sridhar

We traveled to Kanchanaburi on the train that rolls out of Bangkok early every morning and takes its own sweet time to reach the town that finds itself on the tourist map solely thanks to a bridge built during World War II that lies a few kilometers on its outskirts. Popularised by the Hollywood movie, The Bridge on the River Kwai, based on a novel of the same name, the bridge is a living remnant of a railway track that leads all the way to Burma during the building of which several thousand British POWs died during Japanese occupation (therefore giving it the ominous name: 'Death Railway') Kanchanaburi itself is a small town thriving on tourism and located on the banks of this river Kwai, boasting some decent stay options including raft houses on the river. Definitely a doable weekend getaway from Bangkok.

Photo of Kanchanaburi Thailand by Arundhati Sridhar

Having grown up watching The Bridge on the River Kwai with my mother and having practically memorised the iconic whistle, this was right up there on the list of things we were most looking forward to. While the movie itself was shot in Sri Lanka, this is the original bridge the novel referred to. While most of the bridge itself has been reconstructed, you are allowed to walk across it at your own pace, feel for the shell marks on its muscular frame, and try to imagine how strategic this one bridge would have been to the Japanese World War campaign to have them be willing to sacrifice so many lives and resources in the building of it. There is some comic relief in the morbidness though - when Pierre Boulle wrote the novel that became wildly popular, he was a little imprecise with his geography. So the bridge that he so eloquently placed at the center of his plot was in fact not over the river Kwai, but the river Mae Klong. Wily Thai tourism came out the cleverest in all this though, renaming the entire river Kwai Yai in the 60s and saving every tour guide the unenviable task of explaining to a tourist that had travelled all the way across the world to see this bridge how it was technically NOT the bridge on the river Kwai!

Photo of The Bridge of the River Kwai Tha Ma Kham Kanchanaburi Thailand by Arundhati Sridhar
Photo of The Bridge of the River Kwai Tha Ma Kham Kanchanaburi Thailand by Arundhati Sridhar

If there is a part of you that is awash in thoughts of war, crime and death after visiting the bridge on the river Kwai, relief is not too far. The Erawan National Park lies about two hours from Kanchanaburi, and houses an absolutely breathtaking seven-tiered waterfall named after Airawat, the three-headed elephant in Hindu Mythology. The Park is beautifully kept, and the 1.5 trek from the first to the seventh tier of the waterfalls is well-paved with wooden benches at every turn and plenty of tree cover to go around. The Park authorities also rent out camping equipment if you want to stay an extra night (which you will want to), and the next morning you will have the distinct privilege of starting the trek up the falls before the park even opens to outsiders, allowing you some alone time just walking alongside the turquoise waters, watching the sun rays peeking through the trees, casting their light in an almost ethereal manner on the many tiered pools that you see. The sight is so surreal at times that you actually have to stop and allow your senses to take it in. If there exists a heaven, I will be deeply disappointed if this is not what it looks like.

Photo of Erawan Nationalpark Tha Kradan Kanchanaburi Thailand by Arundhati Sridhar
Photo of Erawan Nationalpark Tha Kradan Kanchanaburi Thailand by Arundhati Sridhar
Photo of Erawan Nationalpark Tha Kradan Kanchanaburi Thailand by Arundhati Sridhar

This former Siam capital, now housing ruins from the 13th century, is encased in the wonderful Sukhothai Historical Park. Even if you are not one for a history lesson, the park is in no way a place you can give a skip. With lotus-fringed ponds, graceful teakwood bridges and lush tree-lined roads that wind around the sun-kissed ruins, you will be hard-pressed to find a more peaceful place for an sunrise bicycle ride.

Photo of Sukhothai Thailand by Arundhati Sridhar
Photo of Sukhothai Thailand by Arundhati Sridhar
2 Comment(s)
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Got great inputs from you Wanted inputs from you on itenary I'm planning to visit the place in Jan with my wife Please let me know how to get in touch
Sat 11 05 16, 11:25 · Reply · Report
Photo of Debasish Ghosh
Debasish Ghosh
Great..Krabi is a beautiful place...and Maya Bay is enthralling..
Thu 03 13 14, 06:03 · Reply · Edit · Delete ·