Visit Thailand: Explore beyond Bangkok

Most Thailand visitors find themselves in Bangkok at some point during their trip. I find many people have a love/hate relationship with Bangkok and it’s my mission to try to convert tourists to loving this crazy city that I call home! However, I understand Bangkok can be overwhelming and mental so here are some perfect day trips or weekend trips to escape the big bad city and explore more of Thailand.

Khao Yai National Park

Head into this jungle wilderness in one of Thailand’s oldest national parks. See wild elephants, monkeys, gibbons, snakes, porcupines, deer and many more while on a Greenleaf tour or rent motorbikes and head into the park yourself! 400 baht national park fee entrance. Camping overnight in the park is an option or stay in nearby Pak Chong. Minivans from Bangkok take about 2/3 hours.

Read here for more information about Thailand’s National Parks

Bangkok day trips
Get back to nature and spot wildlife in Khao Yai!
Koh Samet

Gorgeous white-sand beaches and lovely sunsets at Ao Prao beach. Go week days to avoid the crowds and be prepared to pay slightly more for accommodation than other islands. Take a minivan ride to Rayong and jump on a cheap ferry boat to Koh Samet. Spend the day lazing by the beach or swimming. I’ve stayed at some questionable accomadation on Koh Samet before but last time I stayed at the lovely Tubtim Resort, spacious wooden bungalows bang on the beach, with green lily pads growing everywhere.

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Koh Samet – Bangkok’s famous weekend trip island getaway
Lopburi

A few hours on the train from Bangkok (costing approximately 40 baht) you can find yourself in the ancient city of Lopburi, famous for its monkeys and temples. It’s all slightly off the tourist trail which might be a welcome sight for many. I recommend collecting a map of the different temples from the temple opposite the station and deciding on where to visit. All temples that I visited were walkable and there are certain ones that are home to huge families of macaques. Please be aware of not feeding the monkeys any food that is not natural for them. They also will grab your sunglasses or anything else in range so be careful. If you feel like renting a scooter then you can access the gorgeous sunflower fields (seasonal around November- January) and the Peacock temple is worth a visit as well. Along with the birds there is also a great viewpoint if you feel like some exercise up many stairs.

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Monkeys in one of Lopburi’s temples
Whale Watching (seasonal Aug-Nov)

Only two hours from Bangkok, the enormous Bryde whales can be seen! Entering the Gulf of Thailand to feed on anchovies these gentle giants are incredible and one of the coolest experiences I’ve had in Thailand. Wildlife Encounters Thailand offer weekly trips for 2500 baht including transfer from Bangkok and lunch on the boat. An amazing day out!

For more about wildlife in Thailand, read this article

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A Bangkok day trip that was a whale of a time!

 

Koh Lan

One of my favourite weekend haunts, Koh Lan is an island just off of Pattaya. Cheap accommodation and a host of beautiful white sand beaches are there to welcome you. Jump in a songtaew (truck) or motorsi taxi for 20-30 baht and spend the day exploring lesser known beaches and taking in great views of the island! I really enjoyed my stay at this resort, it’s walkable to the pier.

Find out more about Thailand’s paradise islands and where to visit

Bangkok day trips
Monks on a beach in Koh Lan, Thailand. A lovely Bangkok weekend trip
Ayutthaya

A interesting and cultural Bangkok day trip. Head to this ancient temple town, one hour by train or minivan from Bangkok. Rent bicycles cheaply and enjoy cycling around and soaking in the culture of these ancient temples and a former capital of Siam. Don’t forget to try my favourite dessert roti sai mai – kinda like a rolled up candyfloss.

Bangkok day trips
The ideal cultural Bangkok day trip: explore the ruins of Ayutthaya
Kanchanaburi

Tourists come here to see the bridge over the River Kwai and understand more about the dark history of this area where prisoners of war were held by the Japanese during World War II. It is quite far for a Bangkok day trip but I have done it before in one day. I recommend staying one night though. Two hours by car/minivan or a little longer on the train.

Erawan Waterfall

You can combine this with a Bangkok day trip or overnight stay from Kanchanaburi. Visit these stunning, blue coloured waterfalls with 9 steps inside Erawan National Park. Around 45 minutes by car from Kanchanaburi, bring a picnic and spend the afternoon swimming in stunning pools, cliff jumping and getting back to nature.

Bangkok day trips
Bangkok Day trips: Swimming in blue waterfalls in Erawan National Park
Hua Hin

One of Bangkok’s nearest beaches and very big for kite surfing, this is definitely possible as a Bangok day trip or weekend stay. A large stretch of yellow sand beach for hanging out on and a wide range of accommodation is on offer here. Swimming is not always recommended as there are jellyfish lurking! Cha-am is another beach stop just before Hua Hin. You can take minivans or the train to either place from Bangkok.

Bangkok day trips
View of Hua Hin from Takiap Beach, a good Bangkok day trip or weekend visit.
Water Park

Water parks are a great Bangkok day trip and a fun day out. There are many both towards Pattaya or towards Hua Hin. I loved Splashdown, near Pattaya. It is more of an inflatable obstacle course, this brightly coloured water park will have you and your mates running around behaving like big kids, plus a few beers!

Bangkok day trips
Big Kids Day out in Splashdown – funnily enough no-one made it all the way across these giant floating obstacle courses!

Where are your favourite places for a Bangkok day trip? I’m always looking for more inspiration!

Ethical Elephant Experience in Thailand

Hot Water for Elephants

Riding an elephant in Thailand on your bucket list? Re-think your list.

I like to think that any tourist planning to visit South East Asia and interact with animals would do some research into the type of establishment they are participating in and giving money too. Unfortunately the high number of tourists who ride elephants and visit tiger temples in Thailand every year suggests otherwise.

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Feeding the ellies some sugarcane at Hug Elephant Sanctuary in Chiang Mai, Thailand
Making a Difference

I would love to see tourists taking responsibility for their actions. In the Western world, we are so lucky that we have the money and often the time to travel to places like South East Asia. When I first visited Thailand, I could find only TWO elephant sanctuaries that did not offer rides. Four years later there has been a burst in ‘no riding’ sanctuaries in Chiang Mai and it is thanks to the tourists who drive the demand for this. If there is no demand for elephant riding, then local Thai people will be encouraged to use their elephants in alternative tourist settings such as feeding and bathing with them.

Elephant Abuse

Elephants are not made to carry items on their backs. The metal racks placed upon them during tourist rides does lasting damage and deforms the elephant’s back. Working elephants are subject to cruel and abusive ways of taming them known as ‘the crush’ in which elephants are tied up for days or weeks and violently abused until they will comply with the abusers’ commands. Many elephants are trained from an extremely young age which includes being separated from their mothers. Elephants are often blinded on purpose, as a blind elephant is that much easier to control. Large metal hooks are driven into wounds to force the elephant to turn left and right. The skin around the tusks is often hacked at in order to sell as much of the tusk as possible on the ivory black market.

The Future

Ideally these elephants would be rehabilitated and released into the wild. Unfortunately in Thailand this is often not possible, either the elephants rampage local farms, are too dependent on humans. or there is simply not enough jungle to realise them back into. Luckily Thai locals have set up sanctuaries such as Elephant Nature Park and Hug Elephant Sanctuary (two that I’ve personally visited!) to protect them, work with them and boost local tourism using them.

So here’s to the Thais and the tourists, changing the fate of elephants in Thailand little by little…

Links to sanctuaries visited:

Thailand: http://www.hugelephantssanctuary.com/

Thailand: https://www.elephantnaturepark.org/

Cambodia: http://www.elephantvalleyproject.org/

Even better yet – head to Khao Yai National Park and see elephants in the wild!

Heading up to Chiang Mai for your elephant sanctuary? Book your tickets here? The more tickets and trips you book, the cheaper it gets!

What are your elephant experiences? Any other ethical places to recommend?

Never Smile at Indian Men…and Other Bullshit

Are you thinking about solo female travel in India? Having researched and read so many travel blogs over my travelling lifetime I feel I really want to blog about dispelling some horrendous and detrimental myths there are, particularly about travel in places such as Sri Lanka and  India.

Below are some of the following ‘tips’ that I read before both my solo trips:

  • Wear a wedding ring
  • Never tell anyone you are travelling alone
  • Say you are meeting your ‘husband’ later on
  • Don’t stay in cheap accommodation – it’s for prostitutes
  • Never tell anyone where you are staying
  • Don’t take night trains (as read in Lonely Planet!)
  • Don’t talk to locals
  • Don’t smile at Indian men

Having now travelled solo as a woman in both these countries I can fairly safely say that this is complete bullshit. Don’t smile at people? I met some fantastic Indian guys who are now my good friends. I strongly feel that by never telling anyone we are travelling alone, we are not helping the world – we are playing along with society’s idea that women cannot travel solo. That we should feel scared and we are better off staying at home.

I am not naïve. I have had scary moments all over the world including my home – the UK. But that does not mean for one minute that I feel I cannot travel alone. The same things that happen in India, happen in Thailand and happen in London. While I admit that in every society there are certain uneducated and bigoted members who do not respect women, and there may be more in some countries than others, I do not think we should cower in our apartments and never see the world.

Incredible India

I have wanted to go to India since I was teenager. It took me until age 27 to pluck up the courage to stop waiting for someone to come with me and just go! After everything I read I decided to join a group tour for the first part of my trip. As soon as I was there I felt comfortable enough to travel alone. And I did so for the last 10 days of my trip which resulted in some of the most incredible experiences of the trip: whizzing around the Himalayas on motorbikes, waking up at 4am to see sunrise from a temple, building bonfires on beaches by the side of the Ganga river, attending puja religious ceremonies with locals, rafting, bungee jumping, sharing delicious Indian food…the list goes on.

India Advice

My advice to any female solo travellers wanting to go to India but feeling unable to is…GO! Book on a tour for the first part to help you feel more confident but I would without a doubt feel MORE than comfortable returning alone to travel India, Sri Lanka and many more besides…

Advice I DID appreciate and listened to: Take precautions, cover up, have a plan if you arrive late at night, always lock your doors, don’t wander around alone late at night, stay in busy areas, avoid parks/alleys at night, walk on main roads, take a card from the hotel (mainly advice because I get lost and have a terrible sense of direction!) Here’s my top most useful advice.

What are your thoughts on solo female travel? Are you tired of the world telling you it’s ‘too dangerous’? Not safe? Or do you think it’s justified?

Thailand: Top 10 Adventures and Activities!

Visiting Thailand? Here are the top 10 adventures and activities that you can do here, written by someone who lives here! Thailand has so much to offer, especially when you dig a little deeper than just the beach parties and Khao San Road in Bangkok!

1. Visit an Elephant Sanctuary. One that rescues elephants and offers no riding! (Hug Elephant Sanctuary I strongly recommend!) Read more here about why you shouldn’t ride elephants and how you can support ethical animal placesReasons to visit Thailand

2. Go to the jungle – Khao Yao National Park is one of my favourite places to visit for activities and adventures like hiking, jungle treks, camping and wildlife spotting. Read more here about Khao Yai and other places near to Bangkok to visit

activities and adventures Thailand
I was lucky enough to spot three wild elephants in Khao Yai National Park. This was an alone adult male.

Or if you want to venture slightly off the beaten track then read my post here about the activities you can do in Thailand’s amazing National Parks

3. Party on a paradise island like Koh Phi Phi or if timings work out head to Koh Phangan for the world famous Full Moon Party…read here for advice for the Full Moon… I should know I’ve been to 5!

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Enjoy beautiful beaches in Koh Lipe

4. Visit a Bangkok skybar, avoid the incredibly expensive Lebua Sirocco Tower and head to Vertigo or Octave instead. Just as impressive a view and (slightly) more purse friendly.

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5. Go market shopping at Chatachak Weekend market. It’s open Saturday and Sunday and has probably everything you will ever need to buy in your life. Haggle with a smile and be open to getting lost in the middle (items tend to be cheaper there than around the road on the outside).

6. Activities to have to include visiting at least one Buddhist temple. In Bangkok, I love Wat Pho with it’s huge golden reclining Buddha and colourful stupas. Read here for more Bangkok adventures and activities (I live here!) or if you are heading to Northern Thailand like Chiang Mai then do not miss the White Temple in Chiang Rai, it’s a stunning sight to see.

adventures activities Thailand
White Temple in Chiang Rai

7. Eat Thai food. Street food, mango smoothies, desserts, the list goes on. Be adventurous and try some new dishes, sometimes in pays off

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Just not when you’re drunkenly trying scorpions on Khao San Road in Bangkok…

8. Snorkelling Trips are an absolute must do activity. The coral and the fish are worth seeing in all their colours and they trips are great value for money, often full days including a pretty island spot for lunch too. Beware that national park fees will be added in some places so check when you book the tour.

adventures activities Thailand
Snorkelling in Koh Chang

9. Try scuba diving for the first time. Koh Tao, while not the beauty that it once was for diving, is still one of the cheapest places in the world to get qualified as an Open Water diver with PADI or SSI. Be warned, once you start you will be spending all your money on diving around the world in the future. If you’re already qualified or keen to do more then read about the best dive spots in Thailand here

adventures activities Thailand
Dive around tropical coral reefs

10. Get exploring Thailand by island hopping around 100s of islands. Take ferries or kayaks and enjoy anything from party islands to tranquil and deserted spots all around Thailand’s coastline. For (almost) all island summaries check out my blog post on Thailand’s Best Islands here. 

adventures activities Thailand
Beaches on Koh Phangan
Top 3 Things to Enjoy your Adventures and Activities in Thailand
      1. GoPro HERO4 BLACK Never miss a moment above or under the water with a Gopro. I’m obsessed with mine and love the results it produces, particularly diving and snorkelling shots
      2. A bag like this Dry Bag (Green, 5L) to keep all your valuables dry on boats and in monsoon season. Also it generally keeps things sand free too!
      3.  Don’t forget your mosquito spray. I’ve yet to find strong repellent in Thailand so recommend buying in advanvce from somewhere like Amazon Repel 40-Percent DEET

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Adventures Activities Thailand

In Awe of Sri Lanka – Solo Female Travel

Sri Lanka. As my first experience of truly travelling alone I could not have had a better one.

So I arrived at the Colombo airport at 1am completely terrified. Panic started to set it. My flight was delayed so I was arriving even later than normal, would my hostel be open? I had been unsuccessful in my quest for Sri Lankan rupees and had only US dollars and Thai baht in my purse. What if everything was shut at the airport? I was completely alone, in a strange country, with no money, no working phone. I could hear my heart over the sound of the airport announcements as I waited a disturbingly long time for my backpack to arrive.

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The moment I walked through customs and spotted a taxi stand next to an open money exchange place I knew that everything was going to be okay. Things work out as they should do. Always.

Though I spent a mere ten days in Sri Lanka, I already knew I wanted to return. A new found love in my life. I have never found people so warm or so welcoming, everywhere you turn you are greeted with a full cheeky grin and a head wobble.

I had previously been freaked out by other people’s blogs telling you that women don’t travel alone in Sri Lanka, (read more about the myths) to wear a wedding ring, that people will attempt to feel you up on crowded buses, I could not have felt any safer. Always erring on the side of paranoid I was extremely covered up when I was travelling and aware not to drink alcohol alone.

Highlights of my trip:

  • Taking obligatory photos of my train snaking like a blue ribbon through the mountains, cutting through the rock in a feat of engineering – the only good thing that the British brought about
  • The ticket inspector doubling as a palm reader while I hung my head like a dog out of the window
  • A local guide picking me up and giving me a free, extremely informative, tour of the Temple of the Tooth and insisting on being my friend for the next two days, taking me to (male-only) street food stalls, teaching me to drive a tuktuk, seeing cave paintings for the first time
  • Purchasing vegetable samosas for a bus journey and being offered the owner’s sons hand in marriage
  • Seeing wild elephants EVERYWHERE you looked, a dream come true for me, I’m still smiling now
  • Being taught to surf in Arugam Bay, falling off, salt water in my eyes and nose and loving every minute of it
  • A 6 hour ridiculously cramped bus journey up to the north, surrounded by locals and a couple of backpackers with Bollywood music videos blasting at high volume as we veer across the countryside
  • Seeing dolphins on a boat trip and an unexpected  whale shark joining in on the action!
  • Actually crying at a family run guest house because everyone was being so welcoming

Tips

Visit the Sigiriya – amazing ancient Lion’s Rock

Go to at least one National Park- Udawalawe for more elephants than you can take it! Yala for more eles and a high chance of leopards!

Consider visiting the north

Marvel at the number of significant religions – Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Christian

Spend some time in the Hill Country

Watch the sunset at Galle Face Green

Beware if you visit a bar you will mostly likely be the only female!

Drink as much tea as possible

Eat rice and curry with your bare hands with the locals

Eat roti at every opportunity

Beware the local beer is strong!

The list goes on and on and I could not recommend this country any more. Wrecked by decades of civil war which officially ended in 2009, travellers are finally able to visit the whole country and I have no doubt that I will be back. Hopefully to live. Watch this space.

Travel Blog about Thailand, South East Asia & the Maldives