Category Archives:Thailand

Thailand – Take to the Waters!

Looking to try something new? With over 3000km of coastline and countless rivers, Thailand is a premiere spot for water sports in South East Asia. Whether it’s surfing or snorkelling, white water rafting or sailing, no matter what strikes your fancy, there’s an unforgettable experience waiting for you in The Land of Smiles. Boasting a year round tropical climate, and prices that won’t break the bank, there’s no better place to take to the water!

Divers surfacing - Phi Phi islands, Thailand
Divers surfacing – Phi Phi islands, Thailand

In the northern region you’ll find wild mountainous jungle and enchanting waterfalls, alongside vast rice fields. To the south, you’ll indulge the senses with pristine beaches and limestone outcroppings towering over Palm Tree plantations. And you’ll always find something strange and exotic on the bustling streets of the City of Angels – Bangkok. Each distinct area has a personality and charm all its own, providing the foundation for unique memories, and because of the infancy of many of these sports in Thailand, be assured that you can easily find plenty of roads – or rivers – less travelled.

Scuba tanks
Scuba tanks

The south of Thailand is famous world-wide for its SCUBA diving, a sport which provides a door into the underwater world. A tank of oxygen strapped to your back is your key to unlock a delightful inner space adventure. Experience new and different sensations, and gain a perspective that brings with it a cool mix of quiet reflection and exhilaration. The shores of Thailand offer some of the most stunning scenery in the world, above and below the water line. Lush limestone islands jutting out of warm turquoise water, colourful soft corals and even a local whale shark population; Don’t forget to pack or hire an underwater camera, you won’t want to miss out on the photo opportunity of a lifetime.

Prefer to keep your head above water? Cable Skiing on specially built manmade lakes is quite popular. The obstacle courses will offer a challenge to just about anyone who crosses their path! Grab a paddle and helmet and get ready to ride the rapids, white water rafting on one of the many rivers in the north. Enjoy the simple relaxation as you skim the surface of the water paddling a kayak or canoe. Put some wind in your sails, windsurfing, kite-boarding or even cruising on a yacht. Hire a jet ski for a ride down the coastline in the south. Paddle your way across flat water or down the face of gentle waves on a Stand Up Paddle board, or carve some gnarly swells surfing off the west coast of Phuket. The possibilities are as endless as your imagination!

A few factors one should consider when planning a trip to Thailand; How much time do you have available? A short trip is satisfying, however, I would recommend spending as much time as you can in this amazing country, especially if you plan to travel long distances over land. Bus and train travel are my favourite ways to absorb the countryside but not if you’re time poor as both modes of transport are notoriously slow. Next, think about the climate. Thailand has two seasons in the south (hot: March- May / rainy: June – February) and three in the north (hot: March – May / rainy: June – February / cool: November to February). Certain times of year are better to visit certain areas; for instance, a trip to the North during the rainy season, will not be as fruitful as going there just after the rainy season ends, when the rivers are swollen and perfect for rafting. Always check the local weather forecasts. Interest in a specific water sport will effect what region you decide on. Let’s take a look at the different regions we will explore together; The North (everything north of Bangkok), The South (everything south of Bangkok), and of course the capital city itself.

Banana Beach Cove, Coral Island, Phuket, Thailand
Banana Beach Cove, Coral Island, Phuket, Thailand

Located 700 km’s from Bangkok, Chiang Mai is the largest city in the north. Arriving by train in the beginning of March I found myself roaming the streets, just as the hot season was starting to take a hold on the country. The northern part of Thailand is great for an escape from the heat during the hot season and subsequently locals, and tourists alike, flock to the north at this time of year. Heading north out of town on a hired motorbike, we settle in for a long and exhilarating, if not slightly terrifying at times, ride ahead of us. Armed with plenty of sunscreen and bug repellent we cruise north to a town called Pai, a well-known rafting and kayaking epicentre 80 km to the northwest. Hugging the curves of the road, zipping through the jungle dotted with a handful of subsistence farming communities, we occasionally gazed to the horizon where a red sun hung low in a hazy sky. Upon our arrival in Pai, we quickly booked a hut on the riverfront, a serene and intoxicating home-base.  As the water levels were low, we were happy to take a kayak tour down the Ping River. Paddling in rhythm, slowly meandering down the river, a gentle hum of Cicadas in the background, our local tour guide informed us on many of the native plants and animals in the area. As we entered into the more rural areas, we exchanged smiles and waves with the locals on shore, who were always friendly if not a bit surprised to see foreigners. Kayaking is a great way to get closer to nature and explore remote areas, but I’ll have to go back just after the rainy season ends in late November for an exhilarating white water rafting experience. You can also organise bamboo raft tours, which is an excellent way to see the river and local hill tribes as well.

If you have your own transport, Mae Ngat Dam is a twenty five minute drive from Chiang Mai where you’ll find lovely houseboats available for accommodation and kayaks for hire. Many tour companies operate out of Chiang Mai that can take you to Pai, Chiang Dao, near Chiang Rai or to the Nan region, all of which have excellent single or multiple day kayak and white water trips. Closer to Bangkok, Ayutthaya has some exciting kayaking options, and a great way to see the temples and stupas near the river banks in the former capital city. You can also look into the Kanchanaburi region, which offers scenic trips of the River Kwai and is only a few hours northwest of Bangkok.

With so many river systems and tributaries, the north of Thailand is a treasure trove for freshwater fishing. Aside from the rivers there are a variety of fishing holes and lakes that any angler would be foolish to miss. Some of the world’s largest freshwater fish have been caught in Thai lakes and rivers. Fishing is a huge part of Thai culture and is brightly reflected in Thai cuisine. There are many different traditional styles of fishing to be found, don’t be afraid to ask the local fishermen for some tips.. Some of the species that you can battle wits and strength with are Alligator Gar, Arapaima, Freshwater Dorado, Monster Pacu, Chao Phraya Catfish, Mekong Catfish, Giant Snakehead, Striped Catfish and Giant Siamese Carp. Growing in popularity by the minute, Bungsam Lan Lake, just forty minutes outside of Bangkok, is a fisherman’s heaven. The tour operators here can provide you with a wealth of knowledge concerning best bait mixes, tips on equipment and how to handle large fish (they might even give you a recipe to use with your catch!).

Big Buddha, Phuket Island
Big Buddha, Phuket Island

As we travel south, we may lose and/or find ourselves in Bangkok. A recent and unexpected addition to the city, the capital city now has a Flow-boarding centre. You can catch a continuous wave right in the heart of the city! Unlike surfing, you ride an artificial wave, allowing more time to concentrate on balance and perfecting tricks, rather than swimming out in the ocean, waiting for a swell. There is also a Cable Ski lake not far from Bangkok, and you can find many tour operators that can organise your trip on Khao San Road. Once labelled “Venice of the East”, there is an extensive network of canals (khlongs) throughout the city. The Chao Phraya River is a central artery for commerce and travel in Bangkok and believe it or not, it’s possible to kayak in the river, watching the city slide by! There are also many river cruises available and offer a brilliant way to discover this vibrant city.

A ride in a boat going down the khlongs is not to be missed. The largest Khlong in the city, the Saan Saab, is an ideal place to catch a water taxi ride. Not your average boat ride; whiz beneath low hanging bridges watching the crew members quickly duck, feel the spray of the water in your face, experiencing how the locals commute. Unsure if it classifies as a’ water sport’ Songkran, the festival of water is one of my favourite watery activities! The celebration happens all over the country, but the colossal water fight that unfolds on the streets of Bangkok is my personal favourite. Expect to be soaked and expect to love it! Songkran occurs at the beginning of the hot season, (April 13-15) and is a fun way to beat the heat! Three solid days of water fights all over the city… watch out for kids throwing buckets of ice water. Refreshing? Yes. Shocking? Very! Make sure to stock up on Sangsom and have a blast!

Leaving Bangkok behind, let’s head down to the eastern seaboard. First stop, Pattaya, home to a multitude of water sports and a spectacular nightlife.  If you’ve never tried Kite Boarding or Windsurfing, Pattaya is a great place to learn, the conditions are great most of the time, and there are plenty of places to have a coldie with your mates afterwards (trust me, you’ll need one!). If the winds aren’t cooperating, hire a jet ski anywhere along the beach, or soar above the landscape for a bird’s eye view, on a quick parasailing ride. I would recommend going to some of the offshore islands, if time permits, where the water is a bit cleaner. Koh Samet, an island southeast of Pattaya has some incredible sailing opportunities. A bit further south east is the gem of the eastern seaboard, the island of Koh Chang. Arriving on the island via ferry from Laem Ngop, near Trat, we catch the local bus to Hat Sai Khao where we rent a motorbike and head south towards our first dive site. The southern end of the island is not quite as touristy as the more well know dive sites at Koh Tao, or Phuket, and still offers first-rate dive sites. June through October is a great time for diving this area and be sure to keep your eyes open for playful dolphins and inquisitive turtles.

Phi Phi Islands, Thailand
Phi Phi Islands, Thailand

On the opposite side of the Gulf of Thailand let’s take a quick visit to the seaside town of Hua Hin. It’s worth doing a weekend trip here, or a rest stop on the way from Bangkok to Phuket. Water Skiing and Kite Boarding are available here, and you can rent inner-tubes on the beach for a lazing about in the gentle surf. Continuing south, you’ll want at least a week (if not more) for the adventures ahead in the lower Western Gulf, home to the infamous islands; Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao. True paradise on Earth, and excellent for almost every water sport imaginable! Ferries link all the islands to each other and to the mainland, making travel here convenient and relaxing. For the SCUBA enthusiast, Koh Tao is the place to be. Kite boarders and windsurfers will find good conditions on all three islands but the time of year dictates which side of the islands have better wind. Kayaking is readily available at all the islands and surrounding areas as it is grown in popularity in the last few years.

If you’re looking to get rural, you can arrange a trip to Ang Thong Marine National Park from Koh Samui. The park is made up of over forty islands and is largely untouched, great for Kayak, Snorkel or Scuba. Back on land heading south west, take some time to visit the lovely Khao Sok National Park. You can book single and multiple day Kayak trips through the jungles on the Sok River. True wilderness at your fingertips, you’ll hear the call of monkeys in the distance, pass ancient limestone cliffs and caves, glide by waterfalls, and if you’re lucky you might see a Great Asian Hornbill soaring overhead. The early morning is the best time for spotting wildlife.

Phuket is The Pearl of the South and it’s easy to see why when you first lay eyes on the surrounding natural beauty. If you only have a short amount of time in Thailand, Phuket is the perfect place for you, as it offers the largest variety of sports in one location. If you are looking at doing multiple activities in different places on the island, not to worry as Phuket is a relatively small island and great for motorbike riding. Regardless of what you are searching for, or where you stay, you won’t need to ride far.

Floating down a river in Northern Thailand
Floating down a river in Northern Thailand

The tourism industry is in full force on the island, and there is a tour package for just about anything you can think of. It won’t be hard to find the activity that you’re after and with so much to choose from, it can be difficult to make a choice! A piece of advice, with so many tour operators, it pays to do some homework to make sure your guides are qualified, equipment is in good shape and that you are getting the best value for money; do yourself a solid and shop around first. A bit of research will help optimise your valuable time. If you aren’t the ‘tour’ going type, you can hire gear and explore independently, just make sure you know your surroundings and can take responsibility for yourself.

The west coast of the island is typically better for surfing and the east side better for diving, but this can change with the weather. Whichever side you choose, consider starting with renting a Stand up Paddle Board and take in the coastline, getting a feel for the island and the surrounding water. It was late May when I stepped off the bus in Phuket and the waters were looking good off the east coast, so I decided to go on a 3 day live aboard dive trip around Phi Phi Island. The scenery in this area is even more striking than the pictures we’ve all seen! I think if I had more time to spend, I would have booked a week-long trip to the Similan Islands north of Phuket in the Andaman Sea.  Boat life is truly the life for me, and with such calm waters, it’s an enjoyable trip even for land lubbers! There are several dive trip options, ensuring you can find a trip that suits your needs and itinerary. In the last decade or so, windsurfing has taken off in Phuket and provides an extremely satisfying rush and requires very little gear. There are quite a few operators that hire gear and offer lessons. For the novice; when you stand up and feel the force of the wind and sail for the first time, you’ll be grinning from ear to ear.

With so much to see and do in Thailand, just remember you could travel here for your whole life and still not see it all! We have only just skimmed the tip of the iceberg on our travels together. Not only are water sports physically and mentally challenging (not to mention FUN), the simple act of being on the water builds a connection with the Earth. If you think about it, water is something that touches all of our lives; and experiencing the power and beauty of this natural element can only foster awareness in our planet and the forces of nature. Thailand is an unforgettable country and will no doubt grab a hold of you. Find out for yourself what’s around the next corner, live life to the fullest, and don’t forget to bring a towel!

 Click here to read more about Tina’s adventures on her blog. And click here to check out her amazing new travel photography page! 🙂

A Lush Oasis in a Concrete Jungle: Phra Pradaeng, Bangkok

Looking for something different to do in Bangkok? Tired of the hustle and bustle of the city streets? Then take a trip to Phra Pradaeng, a small peninsula situated on the southern side of Bangkok in the Samut Prakan district. Phra Pradaeng offers visitors a relaxing escape into another world filled with all sorts of exotic flora and fauna. This community has one of the lowest population densities in Bangkok and gives us a glimpse at a more rural lifestyle without having to travel far. A construction ban was placed on the area in 1977 in order to preserve its natural beauty, which means it is the only district in Bangkok where you won’t find any high-rise buildings. Here, you can enjoy a break from the hectic day-to-day life that the City of Angels is so well known for.

Phra Pradaeng Jungle
Phra Pradaeng Jungle

There are a few ways to get to this verdant jungle paradise, but I highly recommend taking a taxi to the Chao Praya Port in Klong Toey. From there you can purchase inexpensive tickets on a small wooden boat that whisks you across the river to the pier at Phra Pradaeng called Tha Bangkrachao. The ride is an exciting way to distance yourself from urban Bangkok and a perfect start to your adventure, with fantastic views of the city.

Riding a push bike is the best way to get around once you have arrived in Phra Pradaeng. The peninsula is criss-crossed with a labyrinth of narrow concrete passageways elevated over the klongs and swamps, which allow you a chance to explore places that you can’t reach via car. A few steps from the boat terminal you can hire your own

push bikes for the day at a very reasonable price of about $100 BHT / day. (Make sure to check the brakes, gears and tyres before you take off). There are also several push bike companies that advertise full day-trips with a knowledgeable guide, brand new bikes and meals included for around $5000 BHT.

Phra Pradaeng View from Bangkok
Phra Pradaeng View from Bangkok

Visiting Phra Pradaeng is akin to travelling back in time, to an era when Teak houses built on stilts dominated the landscape of Bangkok. There are also several attractions to hunt down as you cycle along, such as the Siamese Fighting Fish Gallery. This building has two different sections that are filled with a diverse range of fighting fish on display, and the gardens surrounding the gallery are absolutely filled with flowers and butterflies. It’s a great place to catch your breath and take in the scenery. Or why not enjoy a picnic at Pom Phlaeng Faifa Fort, built in 1815. Once a military stronghold, now it’s an enchanting place to spend the day, with gorgeous gardens surrounding ruins of the fort. The facilities are open 7 days a week, from 8am-5pm.

Phra Pradaeng Market

Every weekend there is a lovely market where locals come to sell their products to passers-by. A famous lunch to be enjoyed here is Kuai-tiao Ruea , also known as “boat noodles”. There are a handful of longboats in the main Klong that serve Kuai-tiao Ruea, which is not to be missed. It’s a simple soup with rice noodles, broth, spices and assorted meats, a tasty delicacy that will win your praise instantly. Take some time to browse through the stalls at the market and marvel at the traditional handmade crafts. You can even improve your karmic disposition by making merits at the nearby Wat. For a few Baht you purchase small caged birds, or snakes, fish, eels or turtles, and release them back into the wild thus improving your karma, so they say.

Depending on what time of year your stay in Bangkok happens, there are a couple festivals that are spectacular to view from Phra Pradaeng. The area was originally settled by the Mon tribe and, to this day, it is one of the only places that celebrate Songkran (the Thai New Year’s water festival in mid-April), in the traditional Mon way. At the end of the calendar year, Thai’s celebrate Loi Krathong, the festival of light. The tradition is to float an offering down the river on a vessel made of banana leaves carrying candles and other objects in order to give thanks

Phra Pradaeng Spirit House
Phra Pradaeng Spirit House

to the river and all of its life-giving attributes. Phra Pradaeng is a great place to avoid the major crowds and enjoy the spectacle with the locals.

If one day isn’t enough for you, there are a few options for overnight stays. For a luxurious experience, consider the Bangkok Tree House with stunning architecture and views combined with a nature-centric atmosphere. For those of us on a tighter budget, there’s a more affordable option available at the Phuengnang Homestay, a lovely guesthouse equipped with a variety of amenities. Whichever you decide be sure to bring your camera and some mosquito repellent. You can rest assured that your time on Phra Pradaeng will not soon be forgotten!

Read more about Tina’s adventures on her blog.

Click on the images below to see them in full size.

Should You Risk Eating Street Food in Thailand?

As someone who declares ‘food’ as one of my main hobbies, I find it very difficult to tell anyone not to try any type of food they can get their hands on. Street food is no exception.

By far some of the best food I have eaten on my numerous trips to Thailand is from a local man or woman selling their homemade delights from their wooden cart on the street or from a stall at the market. Not only is it fresh, delicious and as authentic as it gets – it’ll cost you less than the morning paper.

Yes there is the possibility that it can result in a day on the toilet, but if you follow these tips you can practically eliminate the risk of getting sick.

1. It must be piping hot

If you’re ordering cooked food always make sure it’s steaming hot – the hotter it is the less chance that bugs and germs can survive on it.

2. It must be fresh

The main reason that people get sick from street food is because they eat food that has been sitting around for a while. Especially when eating meat and seafood, the food should – where possible – be prepared in front of your eyes and not the leftovers from the day before.

3. Avoid salad and prepared fruit

Like in most developing countries, the tap water is not suitable for drinking. Despite that, the locals still use it to wash salad and fruit – as well as use it to make ice cubes. And while their stomachs may be able to handle it in small doses – you will probably not be quite as lucky.

Fruit that has just been picked and is still in its skin is fine to eat – but avoid any that has been washed and prepared. Likewise with salads, save those for when you get home!

4. Look for locals

Just as you’d hesitate to go into an empty restaurant at home, the same goes for street and market stalls. If it’s empty while all the ones around it have people lining up – then it’s probably for a reason.

The locals naturally know the best places to eat – so if they’re there, you know it’s good. Plus, the turnaround of food is much faster when it’s busy – so it’s more likely to be fresh.

5. Enjoy!

Finally, ENJOY what you’re eating and soak in the flavours. Because, if you are sick the next day you can at least tell yourself it was worth it (sort of!).