January to March 2018
I was last in Thailand five years ago and that trip was rather a small continuation of my trip to Malaysia. For me Thailand was the epitome of mass tourism and the Thais spoiled by this tourism. Colleagues said that there are still beautiful, little visited corners and for some it is even their favourite country. In order to make my own judgement, I visited the country once again.
I spent the first few days in Bangkok, where I underwent a medical check-up and had my eyes and teeth checked. Bangkok has hospitals on an international level at less than half the costs I would pay in Switzerland. The city also offers great bars on skyscrapers with fantastic views, good restaurants and is a shopping paradise.
In the Bangkok office of the Iranian airline Mahan I bought the flight ticket from Dubai to Tehran, which I could not buy online by credit card due to the international financial sanctions against Iran.
Aside from the elevated railway Skytrain, I often used public boats to get from one place to another quickly.
I visited Bangkok for the first time in 1986 and explored the many sights of the city at that time and during the following visits in the 1980s. After such a long time I wanted to visit these places again.
The Wat (Wat means temple) Saket is a Buddhist golden temple with a Buddha relic on an artificial hill in the middle of the city. On the ascent to the temple you pass this model of the temple …
…and this statue. There is even a dry ice fan to create a mystical atmosphere.
Before praying, the shoes must be taken off.
The temple Wat Pho is famous for the 46 meter long statue of a lying Buddha.
With 80,000 square meters, it is one of the largest and oldest temple districts in Bangkok and contains more than 1,000 Buddha statues and pictures.
The Bangkok city pillar shrine
Wat Phra Kaew or “Temple of the Emerald Buddha”
The temple Wat Phra Kaew, also called “Temple of the Emerald Buddha” for tourists, is the greatest and holiest of all Thai temples. In this temple the “Emerald Buddha” consisting of green jade and jasper is exhibited. The Buddha has enormous religious significance and is over 2’000 years old. It originally comes from India. Via Sri Lanka and Cambodia (Angkor Wat) it came into Thailand’s possession in 1432. Unfortunately it was not allowed to photograph the Buddha statue.
The temple from the outside
Since this temple is on every tour program, I found mass tourism here.
As soon as the camera is turned upwards, photos without people are possible.
Not far from the temple Wat Phra Kaew is the royal palace “Grand Palace”.
Ordinary people can buy their Buddha in a Buddha shop.
As the next destination I chose Ko Tao, because the island is known by divers and snorkelers. It is located on the eastern side of Thailand in the Gulf of Thailand. In the Bangkok train station I could conveniently buy a so-called “Joint” ticket, which included the train to Chumphon, the trip to the harbor and the boat trip to Ko Tao. Googling Ko Tao immediately draws attention to the mysterious nightly deaths of young tourists (mostly attractive women) on the island, most of whom the police classified as suicides. I decided to visit this island anyway, because it did not concern my age group and I stayed away from the nightlife anyway. Once on the island, the murders do not seem to be an issue for most tourists, because the island was still visited by many people.
On a path along the island I passed several, partly secluded resorts.
Every house, including the resorts, has small houses for the protection or troublemaker spirits, who are treated with the necessary respect by sacrificing food.
John Suwan View Point
The most beautiful viewpoint of the island is the John Suwan View Point. It allows a view of two bays, Chalok Bay on the left and Thian Og Bay on the right.
Ko Nang Yuan
Once upon a time there were three small islands connected by sandbanks. This place was extremely beautiful and unique in the world. Therefore more and more people wanted to visit this paradise called Ko Nang Yuan and soon tours were offered and an entrance fee was charged.
And soon thereafter, this place was ruined.
As part of the all-day snorkel tour I visited this small group of islands. Otherwise I wouldn’t have done this. I saw some fish on the tour. I expected more.
The sign points out in a funny way that spearfishing is not allowed in Ko Tao.
I am one of the few tourists without tattoos. This bed & ink guesthouse advertises with a free tattoo instead of the usual breakfast.
I met my colleague on Ko Phayam, who came to visit me during his three-week holiday. Ko Phayam lies off the west coast of Thailand. It is one of my colleague’s favourite islands because the masses have not yet discovered this place. The White Sand Beach is long, wide and almost empty. As it faces west, sunsets can be admired every evening. The only disadvantage was the high waves near the beach. As soon as these were overcome, swimming was possible again. The few resorts were fully booked in March. Therefore, some resort owners are considering building more bungalows in the low season. So this place is also becoming more and more touristy.
During our stay a half-moon party was organized. It took place on a small scale and was not at all comparable to the famous full moon party on Koh Phangan, which is attended by 10,000-30,000 people.
On every long journey there are unpleasant incidents. On Ko Phayam my glasses became the victim of an unusually high wave that overturned above me. The receptionist said that I was not the first guest with this mishap and that her glasses also disappeared in the sea. Luckily I was in Thailand, where glasses are significantly cheaper than in Switzerland. The purchase of glasses was now an additional task.
There was a wide range of accommodation on the island. Here is an idyllic simple bungalow.
Kao Sok National Park
After we had enough of beach life, we traveled to Kao Sok National Park, which is home to an ancient jungle, but also includes a large reservoir and some caves. We went on a day hike into this forest, where we encountered impressive trees and monkeys.
The highlight was the visit to the Cheow Lan reservoir, which is surrounded by high karst rocks. With these boats we sailed to our floating bungalows, …
… which can be seen on the left.
Nam Talu cave
An excursion led us to the cave Nam Talu. We crossed this cave from one entrance to the other. At times we waded through streams whose water levels reached up to our necks. The cave is a popular sleeping area for bats.
A sunset scene over the lake …
… and the rising full moon above the floating bungalows. A magical atmosphere!
We liked it so much that we spontaneously stayed one day longer. Before breakfast I already swam a few laps in the lake. Later we discovered the surrounding bays by kayak and enjoyed the rich buffet. The next day before returning we went to the Pra Kie Phet Cave.
My colleague suggested we continue our trip to Kao Lak. This place gained sad fame in 2004 as the Thai coastal region hardest hit by the tsunami. Thousands of people died in this place alone. The Thai Navy Boat 813 conveys the force of the waves most impressively. The boat weighing tons was washed almost 2 km inland and is today a tsunami memorial.
Here too, time heals wounds. Little reminds of this terrible event today. The long beaches attract countless tourists again.
White Sand Beach
The White Sand Beach is one of the most beautiful beaches around Kao Lak and like the other beaches is perfect for jogging.
Surin Marine National Park
Surin Marine National Park is located 60 km from the coast and consists of five small islands on the border with Myanmar. It is considered to be the place with the most intact underwater world in Thailand. As the number of visitors is limited, this park can only be visited with a tour. I chose the longer 3 days/2 nights option.
First we visited a Moken Village. The Moken people have lived on the sea and from the sea for thousands of years and are only stationary in protected harbors during the monsoon season. For some years now, the Thai government has been trying to settle these people so that they can acquire Thai citizenship. They now live in a village called Bon Bay in the National Park. Since these people can no longer live from the sea, they sell all kinds of handicrafts to tourists.
Every snorkeling trip was better than the previous one. This national park really offers the best snorkeling in Thailand!
False Clown Anemonefishes
A Java Rabbitfish
A Coral Rabbitfish
A school of Cornetfishes
A Blue-lined Surgeonfish
A fish from the grouper family that I couldn’t identify.
A Honeycomb grouper
A Map Pufferfish
This is one of the many sunsets I saw during the seven weeks in Thailand.
Electricity was only available at night in the National Park. Therefore, the bread was toasted on a grill for breakfast.
Back in Kao Lak I said goodbye to my colleague who returned to Switzerland.
Prachuap Khiri Khan
I took a night bus northwards to Prachuap Khiri Khan, a sleepy town on the east coast of Thailand. A Belgian couple recommended this place to me. Although there is a long, wide beach here, only a few tourists get lost in this area. Therefore, the price level is much lower than in the tourist places.
Khao Chong Kra Chok temple complex
At one end of the city on a hill is the temple complex Khao Chong Kra Chok. On the way up to the temple you meet macaques with their cute cubs.
From the Temple Hill one enjoys a great view of the bay of Prachuap Khiri Khan and over the city.
Ao Manao beach
Ao Manao, the beach of Prachuap Khiri Khan, is part of Wing 5 Military Airport, so you must pass the security check of the military base before reaching the beach. There is hardly any activity on the premises. During my stay, a helicopter landed. The military ensures that the beach is cleaned regularly, making it one of the cleanest beaches in Thailand. The beach is wide, there are few people and there are no high waves. An ideal beach!
There are monkeys at the military base, too. This time they are langurs.
With a minibus I traveled to Bangkok, where I planned a few days to buy a new pair of glasses. I made a list of possible opticians. The first optician shop made me such a good offer that I could not refuse. A fashionable frame and dense (refractive index 1.67), anti-reflective lenses cost the equivalent of USD 85. Later I asked in other shops in Bangkok where these glasses alone would have cost more than USD 200. In Switzerland, these glasses are again much more expensive. I asked the boss Tak how this low price was possible. She told me frankly that she wants to make turnover and so my glasses are running under a program for Thai students who had to join a club before.
Capital cities always offer culinary delights at the highest level. I therefore decided to visit two gourmet restaurants: The Michelin-awarded Savelberg (Link) and The Reflection at the Hotel Athenee (Link). Both restaurants were excellent. In hot countries like Thailand, which also impose high import taxes on wines, I have hardly found any good wines in restaurants. In these two restaurants, however, the wine accompaniments to the menus were a pleasure.
This marked the end of a seven-week trip to Thailand. I can now change my prejudices. There are friendly Thais and corners still largely spared from mass tourism.
I will spend the next month in Sri Lanka.
This text is an automatic English translation from the German original by deepl.com