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South-East Asia : Thailand

A Great Place to Start

by Matt Thomas

So you’ve decided you’re going travelling, you want to go somewhere marginally more adventurous than the Costa del Benidorm with the rest of Britain’s youth, but somewhere that isn’t too intimidating for the virgin backpacker either. Similarly you want a good time and value for money as you rather fancy getting away for a while. With this in mind, Thailand is a great place to start your travelling adventures.

You will find freindly people, reasonable prices, (although look out for sharp increases in tourist areas), but most importantly a considered and effective infrastructure, set up perfectly for the first time and more experienced backpacker.

Start at the TAT ( Thai Tourist Authority). They have offices all over Bangkok and other tourist areas, their staff are friendly, and English speaking and if you wish, they can book as much or as little of your trip as you want, in terms of tours, buses, trains and accommodation to tailor in with your own plans. They really are excellent and you will be met as promised on every step of your journey by a representative holding your name on a card at your next port of call.

You will most likely fly into Bangkok and this as good a place as any to start. Do your research and work out the main sights you want to see. The Grand Palace, Wat Po (Thailand’s oldest temple) and the National Museum are among the most popular and impressive. The Museum being just a short walk from the Grand Palace. For evening activities head to Gulliver’s on the Khao San Road where you’re sure to meet like midned adventurers to swap stories with and maybe hook up with for a few days. A trip to the, at times brutal, kickboxing is also recommended.

Depending on your plans a trip to Kananchanaburi is a must. The lush setting on the bridge of the River Kwai and celebrated on the film of the same name. Other popular choices in the area North of Bangkok are the ancient city of Ayhuttaya and the Rose Garden Riverside Resort is perfect to escape the heat and tumult of Bangkok.

The highlight of a trip to Thailand will most likely be a trek in Chaing Mai through the northern jungles and staying with a native hilltribe. Trekking through jungle to a village where you can enjoy a hillside game of football via bathing in fresh water waterfalls, before sleeping with livestock running around underneath you is not an experience you will forget in a hurry. Spend at least 2 nights, 3 days.

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The Southern Islands and Phuket are of course what attracts many travellers to Thailand. Phuket and her surrounding areas of Kata and Karon (quieter, cheaper) is the main draw for high end tourism but it’s beautiful neverending beaches and eclectic nightlife make it worth the visit. The islands of Koh Samui, Koh Tao (for diving), Koh Phangan (for partying, full moon style, 10th of each month) Koh Lanta and Koh Phi Phi are true island paradises with stunning beaches and lush visually breathtaking, panoramic landscapes.

So this was simply a rough, almost at-a-glance guide to the best of Thailand. Other things to note would be the importance of observing dress codes at Holy areas (although there are plenty of signs) and while the novelty of travelling by tuk tuk certainly has it’s appeal, watch out of offers of low fares for a day’s transport in exchange for taking you to “Thai Fashion Show” as you will be faced with quite uncomfortably telling a store owner you are (most likely) not intetested in his high end products. The drivers then claim the petrol costs back from the government.

But this is really the only negative. Thailand has something for everyone, the fast paced, controlled chaos, of Bangkok, a rich collection of historical sites and excellent trekking and scenery. Moreover, the southern Islands and Phuket are a beach dweller’s, diver’s and party goer’s paradise and all at reasonable prices and with sound infrastructure. Enjoy!

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The Golden Buddha, Bangkok.