Thailand: Christmas in a Tropical Paradise
One of the most favoured travel destinations in Asia, if not the world. The Land of Smiles welcomes heaps of tourists every year, all year round, and has a reputable image of being a tropical paradise. But does the country hold up to what it promises or is it completely overrated?
Day 1: Krabi
Christmas was around the corner. Most of my friends headed home to their families to celebrate the festivities. Before spending the holidays alone in Hong Kong, better book myself a solo trip. It was only a matter of time to finally visit Thailand.
I landed in Krabi on the west coast of Thailands South. A shuttle bus brought me from the airport to the hostel. The town was quiet, the only thing happening at night is the food market at the waterfront. Try some local food, from stir-fried veggies to pancakes, fresh-pressed juices and amazing desserts.
Day 2: Railay Beach
I woke up to a hot and sunny day. The hostel organised a pick-up service to bring us to the pier, where a long-tail boat takes you in about 1h to Railay Beach. The large peninsula is only accessible by boat, but still attracts massive amounts of visitors. I made my way straight to the viewpoint, which requires a steep, muddy and slippery climb uphill but is totally worth it. The view is stunning.
Unfortunately, Princess Lagoon was closed at that time and could not be explored. Instead, we headed back down and to Ao Phra Nang Beach. Unfortunately, there were too many people and only limited sun. So we crossed the peninsula to reach West Railay, famed for its white sand and crystal blue water. However, in reality, at least 50% of the beach is occupied by boats dropping off and picking up tourists; hence, it's noisy most of the time and water access is limited. Anyways, the day ended with sunbathing and sipping on a fresh coconut. Thumbs up!
Day 3: Tiger Cave Temple
On the third day in Krabi, I decided to head to one of its most-visited attractions: The Tiger Cave Temple. Only a 15-minute car ride from town, this sacred site on top of a 600-meter high cliff promises breathtaking jungle views. Downturn? You have to walk up 1,237 steps. Good workout, I guess.
Bring water, a hat, hide your belongings (especially food) from the monkeys, and get ready to sweat. Once you reach the top, the views are indeed worth all the pain and tears. You can explore the whole area to take pictures and enjoy spectacular views of the surrounding nature. Or take a photo as the stunning goddess that you are ;)
Day 4: Koh Phi Phi
It was time to take my backpack and venture to the next destination: Koh Phi Phi. Even after some had warned me, this place was still on my bucket list and I had to see it for myself. The ferry took about 2 hours. Arriving at the pier, I was immediately overwhelmed by the number of tourists – the centre of the island was packed. After paying the “entry fee” to preserve the environment (20 Baht = 0.6€), I had to leave the main road as soon as possible. It's noisy, full of tattoo studios, bars and restaurants, not to forget about the souvenir shops and diving shops.
After getting to the steps leading to the viewpoint, I could start enjoying this trip. I took the flight of stairs to Viewpoint 1, which requires another entrance fee of 30 Baht (= 0.90€). Already from there the island shows off its beauty but you should keep going to reach the next viewpoint. This is the perfect spot to get your Phi Phi picture. If you want to see Viewpoint 3, you will have to pay another fee. I’d rather order an Iced Americano and enjoy the views from the rooftop terrace of the café.
Day 5+6: Phuket
I arrived at Rassada Pier outside of Old Phuket town on Christmas Eve and headed to my hotel to spend the rest of the day at the pool. Takeaway noodles for dinner, what a Christmas feast! The plan for Christmas Day was a private boat tour with a friend of mine in the south of Phuket.
The next morning, after breakfast and a risky scooter ride with a fellow Austrian we had met at a dodgy bar, we eventually arrived at Rawai Beach, where we hired a long-tail boat with two skippers. First stop: Banana Beach on Koh He. The boat ride offered nice scenery of small islands scattered off Phuket's coast. Arriving at the beach, we realised it was actually very crowded and quite touristy. Nevertheless, fresh coconut and snorkelling are never a bad idea.
After spending a few hours tanning, we hopped back onto our boat and drove to Koh Bon, which is by far less visited and we ended up being the only people on the beach. Once the sun had left one side of the island, we walked over to the other side, where we had dinner at a local restaurant. To round up this trip, we took our boat to Koh Kaeo Yai, where we explored a monastery and Buddha statue to watch the sunset.
Day 7+8: Koh Samui
The flight from Phuket to Koh Samui takes only about 1h. Arriving at the airport immediately provides island vibes and by far a more relaxed atmosphere compared to Phuket. I stayed in the north near Choeng Mon Beach. On the first day, I joined an organised boat trip to Koh Tao and Koh Nang Yuan, including snorkelling and tanning at the beach. Nothing wrong with that. I mean, look at this view!
Day 9: Koh Phangan
The next morning I took the ferry to explore Koh Samui's little handsome brother: Koh Phangan. Together with a french guy, I met on the ferry and immediately got along well, we rented a scooter to explore the island. Our first stop was Chalok Lam, a cute little town in the north of the island, for breakfast at the Carrot Café and a dip in the ocean. Later we headed to Phaeng Waterfall for some stunning views of the west coast and lush green jungle. You can continue across the island and stop at some other beautiful beaches, for example, one of my favourites was Thong Nai Pan Yai.
Day 10: Final Day
Back on Koh Samui, some girls from the hostel and I rented scooters and headed to the Fisherman's Village for breakfast at the seaside. Later we drove south to the Na Mueang Waterfalls, and, despite being one of the most visited attractions, we managed to get that nice picture. Even when it started raining along the way it didn't stop us from seeing the infamous Grandfather's and Grandmother's Rock (which requires a lot of imagination) and Wat Plai Laem, an impressive temple complex near the Big Buddha.
Expectations vs. Reality
Overall, Thailand indeed has some nice spots and great places for a relaxing holiday. There are plenty of beaches, attractions, temples and it is very easy to get around. On the other hand, given it is such a popular destination, there is a high chance of tagging along with hundreds of other tourists. To sum up, I'll definitely visit Thailand again because of its interesting culture and welcoming inhabitants, but I'd rather go north to Chiang Mai or find a remote island.