When I can’t travel as freely as I want to, or I need travel inspiration, I spend an afternoon pouring over my National Geographic Traveller magazine. I always find a place I had never previously considered visiting and am reminded of my own adventures in far off places. The September issue lists Thailand as one of the best island destinations and I very much agree, so, here are my top must do’s when visiting southern Thailand.
Hire a moped and explore hidden beaches
The best way to get around in southern Thailand is simply to hire a moped and zip around with friends on the look out for hidden beaches. Just be sure you have travel insurance! My friend and I had an accident where I pulled off the road too fast and she smashed into the back of me, landing on the tarmac teeth first! There are no road rules in Thailand, you will have to navigate all manner of vehicles, people and animals, it’s hair raising in crowded areas and exhilarating on a quiet island like Ko Lanta.
We found a secluded beach and ended up playing a game of bowls with a washed up buoy from a boat and driftwood as the pins while the sun slipped lazily behind the glistening blue ocean.
Get a massage on the beach
Not much beats lying on a comfy mattress watching the ocean while surrounded by curtains flapping in the breeze that competes with the expert hands of your masseuse to make your body feel a million bucks! Thailand is so affordable that you can afford to get a massage every single day that you’re there and tip well to boot.
Snorkel and dive
If you go to southern Thailand and not snorkel or dive, you’re doing it wrong. All you have to do is head down to the boats and negotiate a day rate to be taken out to snorkel. Just be sure to bring a bottle of vinegar with you in case you are stung by a jellyfish. The vinegar neutralises the sting and helps it to heal faster. I was stung four times but then we did go snorkelling after a big rain which apparently brings about more jellyfish.
If you dive, you can join a group going out or hire a boat to go out and dive. Just don’t go after a heavy night, especially if the water is rough. I made that mistake and was 110% sure I was going to die on a boat in the middle of the Andean Sea! Not pleasant!
Thailand is absolutely beautiful wherever you go, wether beneath the waves or high above. Find out about a route up a nearby mountain or join a guided tour and you will not be disappointed. Strap on your trainers or walking shoes, slather yourself in sunscreen and bug repellent and stock up on a lot of water, top off with a sun hat and your camera and you’re set for a wonderful day of ooh’s and aah’s!
Get a bamboo tattoo
Now I know not everyone is keen on tattoos, but if you are, I highly recommend getting a traditional bamboo tattoo. There are hundreds of places to do this, especially of you are on Ko Phi Phi, but just make sure the place you choose are strict with health and safety, using gloves and disinfectant.
I can attest to the fact that a bamboo tattoo is far less painful, even painless to some, than a tattoo machine and you will have something truly unique and special to remind you of your adventure in wonderful southern Thailand.
Visit the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project in Phuket
One thing you may notice when you’re out and about at night in southern Thailand is people walking around with a “monkey” that you can pay to take your picture with. This is illegal and devastating to the population of gibbons in Thailand. These gibbons (gibbons have no tails so they are apes, whereas monkeys have tails), are malnutritioned, drugged and abused in order for them to make money for their captors. Their entire family was murdered in order for them to be a slave to the tourist trade. You will learn all of this at the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project and will be given the opportunity to donate to their rehabilitation as well as purchase wonderful gifts to take back home that contribute to the running of the project. Gibbon rehabilitation is a long and very difficult job, so please, think before getting your picture taken with these fragile animals.
I spent four weeks volunteering at the project before traveling around southern Thailand for a further two weeks. Volunteering gave me the opportunity to live like a local, learn the language and meet awesome people from around the world who were also volunteering, not to mention become intimately acquainted with the wonderful animals that are gibbons – I will never forget their beautiful singing.
Visit a local food market
You will find yourself in total awe and bewilderment when visiting a local market. You will see all kinds of weird and wonderful foods and sweet things to eat (I recommend the fried bananas), and amazed at tables full of raw meat sitting out in the open. Sample and haggle and laugh, it is quite the experience! if you learn a little Thai like “hello”, “please” and “thank you”, you may even get a better price than the hiked up “farang” (foreigner) price, altho, it’s so cheap, why not just pay it?
Snack on chicken skewers from a roadside vendor
You can find these vendors anywhere you are, just pull up on your moped and order a few, they’re usually being cooked as you speak or freshly cooked and they are delicious!
Party on Ko Phi Phi
You will forget the day of the week on Ko Phi Phi because every day is a party, there is no weekend on this crazy island. It is full or cats with no tails (as a result of inbreeding), crazy weird foreigners who live their long term, tourists coming and going and the locals who have seen it all. If you’re brave enough, enter a Thai boxing competition to win a bucket of booze that will make you forget your name!
Live like a royal on a pauper’s pocket
Thailand is unbelievably cheap, and even more so outside of the main tourist areas. After partying like it’s the end of the world on Ko Phi Phi, head to Ko Lanta for some much deserved R&R. The beaches are tranquil and you can rent a luxury suite for the same price as a dormitory in Australia! You will eat (and drink!) like a royal and pay nothing more than a fiver or a few dollars.
Many “digital nomads” live long term in Thailand in air conditioned and serviced luxury suites for about the same price as weekly rent in the UK and internet is cheap and everywhere in Thailand.
I must say, National Geographic’s Traveller magazine is one of the best travel magazines that I’ve ever read. The articles are unique and inspiring and I always end up reading them cover to cover even if I’m not interested in traveling to some of the places, the articles are always so compellingly written. You can grab your subscription at magazine.co.uk for this great travel magazine, or a range of other magazines to suit your interest!
*Most photos my own from my trip in 2010, some photos from unsplash.