Utter chaos is shrouding my head as I try to pen down, how I nailed Thailand with my parents on a tight budget. Adding Thailand was a no-brainer when I decided to take my parents to Singapore for vacation. They had all the time and so did I. Besides, it is always a good idea to club few countries together, when taking that big break. Reasons are simple, you save big bucks on flights, if the countries are neighbors, you might as well tick them off of your bucket-list. If you have come from my Singapore blog post, Part I of this two part travel-story then, I am sure you are as excited to see how the Thailand part unfolded as I am to narrate. So without further ado, let us get started with Thailand on budget with parents.
The idea here is to help you understand, what all is practically feasible to cover in the budget, that I mentioned in Part I. We assigned 8 days 7 nights to Thailand. Although it is not enough to cover all the beauty that Thailand has to offer, it was a lot more time than what an average traveler spends. With Singapore there was a whole different challenge to fit everything in budget, however Thailand makes it easy to control your budgeting due to affordable food and transportation.
With so many destinations to pick, it was a mammoth task to narrow down few places which offered the best of everything in Thailand. My greedy traveler soul wanted to see everything. After pouring hours of research I shortlisted Krabi, Phi Phi Islands, Phuket and Bangkok. In my opinion they offer the best of Thailand, that is there to.
It was tricky to assign days for Thailand travel. When I was researching about how to travel between each of these places, numerous options came up however the budget, time to reach and feasibility of catching your next transportation everything has to fall in place.
Flights between Singapore and Krabi are mostly reasonable, it fit our timelines perfectly. Once we landed in Krabi, there was no wasting time. Since we had only one night in Krabi, it was only logical to book hotel near the city center and Krabi walking market. Green house hotel, was perfectly located at walkable distance from Krabi walking market, with reasonable price.
Singapore to Thailand transition was sudden but not un-welcomed by us. Initially we strolled around the Chaofah park, that offers a good view of the backwaters, yet is a perfect setting for street art and performances. Partly a flea market, partly a hangout, it helped to slowly ease into Thailand's vibrant culture of gastronomy, folk-dance, night markets and Thai lifestyle. Do not miss, I repeat, do not miss, to fill your bellies with liters of good juices and smoothies while in Thailand. They are simply the best-est and fresh-est, plus they are super cheap. Also you don't want to miss the necessary nutrition your body needs while traveling right?
Taking a ferry to Phi Phi Island was somewhat daunting. Language is still challenging in most parts of Thailand except for big cities, where young generation can easily speak English. My homework came in handy when we were able to easily board our ferry from Klong Jilad Pier, however a rip-off couldn't be evaded. I believe it comes from the swindler mentality caused by over tourism. One can only be so much careful, when traveling in Thailand.
As the Ko Phi phi ferry terminal approached, the water turned from blue to aquamarine, hitting gently on the sand of Ton Sai beach. I had never seen such blue transparent waters in my life. I won't lie. Islands like these immediately evoke the dreams of owning an island house and a small boutique shop, with salty air surrounding it.
Ko Phi Phi Don island is so small that you can simply walk from one point to another. Most of the hotels surprisingly are run by women employees, it was sort of refreshing to be frank, having come from a patriarchal society. Phi Phi islands, is an archipelago of six islands in Krabi province of Southern Thailand. Currently only Ko Phi phi Don is inhabited. Out of the six islands, Maya bay, once the most popular island, is now permanently closed due to destruction of corals and marine habitat loss.
Phi Phi islands offer innumerable activities, for the explorer in you, apart from the regular beach activities. You could go hiking to the Phi Phi viewpoint and get one of the best views of the island in just a matter of 30 mins. Go diving in one of the most sought after waters in diving scene or simply go swimming in the warm waters. Take those Shark watching tours or simply go on a booze cruise, whatever floats your boat, shopping across the length and breadth of the island or simply walking bare-feet on the warm sand. Sunbathing happens to be quite popular too, wink wink.
Our first evening was mostly about relaxation. My parents were exhausted from the humidity, however, I couldn't wait a second in the hotel room. Swinging camera around my neck, slid into flipflops, lathered myself with sunblock, I headed straight to the Loh Dalum beach. However, the sight of bleached corals, illegal shell harvesting, plastic waste lying around left me distraught, I was helpless. Eventually, I found shelter in the sound of the shallow waters crashing on the shore.
Next day we took a 5 hour long-tail boat tour that takes you around the Phi phi islands. There is no need to make any bookings in advance, just ask around near the pier and you can easily get a good bargain. The boat trip covered views of Maya bay, snorkeling near Lo Sama bay, Viking cave view, Monkey beach and then at night for those who wished, plankton watching by snorkeling.
In Ko phi phi Don, we experienced these huge community kitchen sort of setting for having paid meals. It is basically a buffet and you pay for what you eat. They were quite filling and reasonable compared to the sit down restaurants, I would highly recommended those, in-order to keep the budget in check.
It was difficult to say good-bye to the pristine waters and calmness of Phi phi islands, but change is inevitable. Hence, next morning we took ferry to Phuket from Ton Sai pier. Phuket was never on my to-see list to be frank, partly because I felt there isn't much to do apart from ahem-business and partly because it is similar to Bangkok. Blame it on my half-heard knowledge that it was all about night clubs, bars, discos and prostitution business and tell me about how wrong I was.
With my last minute research, we hired Alex taxi for half a day site-seeing. And believe me you, that was the best decision. I think we paid around 1700 THB, for 5 hours. The driver was prompt and picked us up from Rassada pier. That was in the plan, as it would be efficient to then go around southern Phuket and we would be dropped at our hotel near Phuket airport by the end of it.
Five hours sure were not enough to see entire Phuket so we picked up Wat Chalong, one of the most beautiful Buddhist temple I have ever seen, Big Buddha which has amazing Phuket city and shoreline views, and lastly Karon beach although flooded with tourists it had amazing vibe and off-course the food stalls. Our vehicle waded slowly in the city due to traffic however it gave us ample opportunity to enjoy the characteristics of Phuket city lifestyle and culture.
By the time we reached Bangkok we were quite exhausted from all the traveling of week and half. More so, with the humidity it wasn't easy for my parents. However, a day off and some relaxation in the air conditioner fixed it.
One of the best transportations, I discovered in Bangkok was the Chao Phraya river ferry system. It is extremely efficient, easy to use and yes pocket friendly. Just take your time read the map, ferry timings online and bingo. However once more we were victim of a rip-off. We did not really understand the concept of orange line, blue line/tourist line, local line and so on. Take it from my experience and board the orange line that is cheapest and does the same job as blue line. Thank me later.
Site-seeing in Bangkok can be tricky if you don't have your private vehicle, that's when we decided we will use the river ferry and cover the attractions by river route. Wat Arun temple should be the first and foremost on your list when in Bangkok. The Khmer-style tower, encrusted with colorful porcelain will leave you speechless. The temple gets it's name from Hindu god Aruna, meaning Sun. The spires, the pearly iridescence against the backdrop of Chao Phraya river provides a perfect setting to visit it at Sunrise or Sunset, alike.
From there you can take the ferry to Wat Pho temple. It is another magnificent Buddhist temple, with one of the largest Buddha statues in Thailand, with dimensions of 46m length and 15m height.
Kindly note: Dress codes for many of the Bangkok attractions and temples, you will not be able to get inside if you do not follow the dress code.
Once you get hold of the river ferry system, it is straightforward to understand the route for other attractions. Taking the river ferry, we continued our site-seeing from Wat Pho to The Grand Palace. You know I really admire such palaces and grand historical sites, for one reason, the patience and dedication of the laborers. It is mind blowing to see the grandeur of intricacies towering high towards the sky. The Grand Palace is one of the most visited sites in Thailand and why shouldn't it be? The striking ornamental gardens, courtyards and buildings offer a peek into the royal history. While I leave you to imagine the opulent beauty of this palace, DO NOT forget to check the dress code, you would be shocked to read that men are strictly not allowed to wear shorts.
While the palaces and temples, flaunt rich history of Thailand, alleyways like Khaosan road display flourishing rich culture coiled around tourism. At Khaosan road you can find rows of trendy fast fashion stalls, bizarre food like deep fried insects and animals of all sorts, handicrafts, books and other useful backpacker items. By evening it comes alive to the fullest, when the music is deafening, aroma from the food mixes with spirits of all kinds rises up, with the laughter of the tourists creating a lively madness.
In my opinion, trip to Bangkok is incomplete without witnessing the railway running in the middle of the market, you guessed it right. Maeklong railway market was the crown of my to-see-list. To get to Maeklong market with middle aged parents was tricky, because of the tight budget and given how far it is from Bangkok. I figured, the best way was to hire our own taxi. After a lot of consideration, we ended up hiring a taxi service advised by our Airbnb host, unfortunately it wasn't the best deal. You can never evade a scam or two while in Thailand so might as well make up your mind for some of it.
My parents had seen this market on some travel show and were psyched to witness it. Our taxi driver knew exactly when and where the train would cross the market and directed us accordingly. In spite of reaching quite early, there were tons of tourists all-ready to capture this bizarre process of moving the awnings and shop fronts from the train tracks. Even though the train is extremely slow make sure to mind your step and move away from the tracks, be careful, sometimes there might not be enough space to stand all-together.
After relishing on some local sweets from the market, our next destination was another form of market, floating market. We were taken to the Damnoen Saduak floating market by our driver. If only, had I known that it is not a real market, but a tourist trap. The boat ride was pricey, food and other items sold were completely tourists oriented. It may give an idea of how the real floating markets, are around the southern Asian rivers, but lack the authenticity of one. If you still want to experience one, you could try checking out other floating markets such as Bang Nam Pheung Floating Market, Khlong Lat Mayom Floating Market, Amphawa Floating Market(kind of similar to Damnoen) or Talin Chan Floating Market. In the end though, one thing stood out in our experience on that day, it was sighting the a giant Python in water and a crocodile, right next to our dinghy motor boat.
Gasping and thrilled from the experience, it was time to say good-bye to the delightful journey that spanned across 2 weeks. As we tried mimicking Sawadee ka, during our return flight, we couldn't help but cherish the culture shock and many experiences that lingered around us. No matter how much I hated certain things in Thailand, the moments that taught us that we all are different but same, out-weighted them.
I hope my journey with parents would help you plan yours. For more amazing photos, trips and tricks, follow me on my instagram handle at oldpathnewstride.