Compared to holiday destinations in Europe the accommodation in south-east Asia is very reasonable, and you won’t have to worry about food either. For a handful of change you’ll be guaranteed a square meal. Even after just one trip you’ll have so much to tell about your experiences there. I’ve asked two of my readers if they could share with us their own experiences of their recent backpacking journey through Thailand.
The pair are called Joanna and Dominic, both 20 years old, and they set out for two weeks to travel around the country with their backpack, get to know the people and culture and relax on gorgeous beaches. The great thing is that you’ll also be getting the best pictures from Thailand because Dominic is a photographer – and he has a proper knack for taking awesome pictures. I’ve interviewed them both for you and asked them about their best experiences. What they’ve got to say is really exciting.
Backpacking in Thailand
The backpacking interview at a glance:
Why Thailand exactly? | Journey to Koh Phangan, Ko Tao and Koh Samui | Tips and tricks for getting the most out of travel and accommodation
Why Thailand exactly?
Joanna and Dominic – a backpacking trip through Thailand sounds dead exciting. How did you come up with this idea? And why did you go for Thailand?
Originally we actually wanted to just go on a holiday. But then there was the question of where would be warm at this time of year. Unfortunately at that time there aren’t a lot of options in Europe that we could have afforded, so we had to think a bit outside of the box. The second point was that we didn’t fancy either a typical holiday spent at the beach or at the pool, or a holiday spent partying. We just wanted to see something new, get to know another culture and do something that none of us had ever done before. After a bit of research Thailand became the best option. Thailand is often described on the internet as the ideal destination for inexperienced backpackers. You can read a lot about other backpackers’ experiences and ask them questions in the forums.
How did you prepare for the journey? What do you need in Thailand to be adequately equipped?
Joanna: To prepare for the journey we trawled through some travel blogs on the internet. Backpackers describe their experiences, give tips and some even publish packing lists. I even bought a travel guide (Lonely Planet) so we could experience more of the land and plan the best route. We already did all the research about compulsory vaccinations a couple of months before. There aren’t any vaccinations you’re required to take when travelling to Thailand, but getting vaccinated against Hepatitis A and B, for example, is something we really recommend anyway.
Dominic: I have to admit it was actually Joanna who prepared us for the journey. I was a bit more relaxed about it all than she was. It was probably to do with the fact that she had her semester break and I was still having to work at the time. In any case Joanna had figured out all the important stuff and passed on all the things to me that I had to book.
You don’t actually need a lot when you’re in Thailand. You’ll can get everything you need to live off a lot more cheaply. I packed my rucksack with enough clothes to last about a week. Afterwards I just gave them to the dry cleaner. I paid around €10 for a lovely lady to wash, iron and neatly fold everything. When it comes to towels packing two will be more than enough. We relied on those microfibre towels. You can fold these up really small and they dry off really quickly – they’re great for rubbing sand off as well. All of the resorts that we visited actually offered clean towels every day that you could even take to the beach with you. The most important things were definitely sun cream and mosquito spray, but it can cost up to three times as much as they normally would in Thailand due to the massive demand. During the day we used a gym bag to carry essentials around – they’re nice and compact and weigh almost nothing.
When did it all kick off? Where did you start from and how did the routes look like?
We travelled from 16/03/2015 to 02/04/2015. We started in Dublin, had a layover in Abu Dhabi and then landed in Bangkok. The return had one extra layover: Bangkok – Abu Dhabi – Berlin Tegel – Dublin. Because our flight from Abu Dhabi to Berlin was delayed by a good 40 minutes we only had a whole 15 minutes to get off the flight and board the next next one. That was quite stressful!
The prices were totally different. They can start from €500 and fetch up to €1,000 for a direct flight – sometimes up to €1,500. The days that you travel on also make a massive difference. There’s a difference in price of up to €200 when booking the same flight on a Monday or on a Wednesday. We travelled about 17 hours and flew for around 12 each way.
What was the weather like when you were there?
The weather was brilliant! There was a bit of rain one morning, but by midday it had gone again. The temperature was above 30°C every day. Once it even hit 40°C in Bangkok. However you do perceive the temperature in Thailand differently than at home.
The journey to Koh Phangan, Ko Tao and Koh Samui
Tell us a little about where you stopped. Where did you go first? Are there any hot spots or places which maybe weren’t worth seeing as much?
Because we didn’t have enough time to really see everything we considered ‘only’ exploring the east cost of Thailand and then just focusing on the islands of Koh Phangan, Ko Tao and Koh Samui. The islands are all quite close to each other, so you’re also saving time which you can use to explore the islands some more. It takes at most 2 hours to get to the next island by boat.
There’s actually something for everyone in Thailand. On Koh Phangan there’s the Full Moon Party which takes place once a month and has about 30,000 visitors. The prices for accommodation will increase at this time though. Like we said before though we weren’t really looking for parties and so we saved ourselves some time by not going. For party animals though Phangan is pretty much heaven. As well as the Full Moon Party there’s also the somewhat smaller Half Moon Party and a Blackmoon Party. There’s also little parties that take place every day by the pools in bars and individual bungalows.
Koh Phangan also has sights you can see by day. We decided to see the Than Sadet waterfall. The way there was very, very bumpy to say the least. It’s recommended to go there by Jeep or at least by taxi. Unfortunately there wasn’t actually a lot to see at the waterfall. Someone explained to us that there hadn’t been any rain for 3 weeks so the waterfall wasn’t looking as wild as it normally would do. But it wasn’t all bad – about 100m away from the waterfall was a gorgeous bay.
By the way, our resort on Koh Phangan was called the B52 Beach Resort. It had a large pool with a bar next to it, another bar at the beach and bungalows with air conditioning. It was €15 per person a night including breakfast. It should have originally come to €22, but with a little bit of charm, a nice smile and a big ‘please’ the owners were happy to play along. We then spent four nights there.
Then we went by ferry (approx. €13 per person) towards Koh Tao – a pure paradise for snorkelling and diving! You’ll never find so many diving schools for such a reasonable price. There will often be a diving course that includes somewhere to stay and food as well. On Koh Tao we went for a little wander and we headed towards a private bay – you can visit these for free and they’re pretty much untouched by people. It was about a 5km walk. There’s also a 350m height difference, which you’ll definitely notice when you’re on your way back up to the resort. Apart from that Koh Tao is the perfect size to discover by foot at just 21km².
From Koh Tao we then went to Koh Samui. Koh Samui is often called a package holiday paradise which we totally agree with! The resorts here are somewhat more luxurious, larger and more for the proper holidaymaker. We trusted our travel guide and booked the accommodation a day in advance. The Hutcha Resort costed us €15 per person per night with breakfast included and we again had a huge pool with a bar. On Koh Samui we first visited the market that takes place every week and ate absolutely tons. You really could buy literally anything there from a fake Rolex for €5 to half a pig!
At the reception in our resort we also booked a canoe tour of Ang Thong Marine Park. At €50 it wasn’t the exactly the cheapest, but it was totally worth it! Prices really don’t matter when you get a chance to look at completely untouched nature.
From Koh Samui we then went back to Bangkok. We’d booked a transfer from Koh Samui to the airport in Surathani and paid €20 per person. For the domestic flight it came to around €60. We’d already booked the hotel in Bangkok, Mode Sathern Hotel, in advance on the internet and paid €60 per person a night including breakfast.
The hotel was completely crazy! Our room was on the 31st floor with a view of the skyline of Bangkok. There was also a sky bar on the 40th floor and the pool was quite high up too. Bangkok is a city we can personally cross off the list now. We don’t feel the need to go back, but it’ll be different for everyone. Although there are a few sights there, it was on the whole pretty loud and dirty. You couldn’t shake the feeling that there would be someone on every street corner who wanted to flog you something and the taxi and rickshaw drivers weren’t exactly the friendliest either. When travelling by taxi you should always insist that the meter is turned on or directly negotiate a price for the journey in advance.
Tips and tricks for getting the most out of transport and great accommodation
How much did you pay for international and domestic flights? How much for the food there?
The flights costed €574 per person, but we had booked it relatively late anyway – 2 months before the departure. The domestic flights were around €60. The food in Thailand is very reasonable, so for €2 you’ll be completely full but be careful: it’s dead spicy. However the alcohol will eat up all your money dead quick – a wheat beer at the supermarket is actually €7. A normal beer costs €2-3.
You’ve visited many islands and places. Are there any tips to get someone from A to B a lot cheaper?
When you’re travelling between islands it’s best to go by ferry. For all of the sights a taxi will do the job just fine. For the brave ones among you there’s scooters you can rent from everywhere. But it’s always better to be on the safe side. For us the most important thing was just getting to our destination in one piece. You’d rather pay €2 more and have a journey that you felt more comfortable with.
Theoretically you can travel by train instead of catching a domestic flight from Surathani to Bangkok and vice versa. It costs €45 per person but you’ll be travelling from 5pm until 8am the next day. The Thais are happy to barter for prices, and it’s worth trying to get as much value as possible. Like we said, our first accommodation was €7 cheaper per night after just a few kind words.
Which of the places you stayed at would you recommend?
On Koh Phangan we were at the B52 resort and it totally won us over! The staff were super friendly. The rooms were always clean and the resort was gorgeous overall.
Things weren’t so nice on Koh Tao. No air conditioning, no breakfast, no room service but 100% clean – it was after all just €4 per person a night. Unfortunately we can’t remember what the place was called. We’d already read in advance that bartering isn’t actually worth in on Koh Samui and we’d booked the accommodation at the Hutcha Resort in advance. We really liked this place as well. In Bangkok our highlight was the Mode Sathern Hotel. The hotel is very easy to get to and it’s the perfect starting place for a good bit of sightseeing. The staff were very friendly and helpful so it was very relaxing end to a backpacking trek.
Is it advisable to book accommodation on the spot or should do you do it at home? Can you negotiate the prices?
Joanna: Sometimes. I think in this case it depends on who you meet and how you approach the situation. If you dare to hike a few hours from resort to resort with 15kg on your back and having to determine every time if they’re too expensive, dirty or just not nice, then it’s not essential to book beforehand. If you’d rather have everything be a little more relaxed and go from a ferry to a taxi straight to the resort then it’s absolutely essential to book in advance. However you won’t be able to do anything about the prices.
Wow! The pair of them have experienced a lot when they went backpacking in Thailand. They’ve even revealed some tips about the best accommodation so you don’t have to search hours to find some.
I also should thank Dominic for the fact that I have such great pictures from Thailand! He is a photographer and has a real feel for taking impressive photos. A great big thank you for sharing them, and a big thank you also to Joanna for sharing her experiences.
Phew, I really fancy going somewhere exciting and looking at my flights for great offers. Do you as well? Be quick before they’re all gone!
More from the Travel Magazine: