Coordinates: 15°N, 100°E
If you are traveling in Southeast Asia, you will end up in Thailand at some point. I was not planning to go there at all. I actually wanted to skip Thailand entirely. Why? Because in my mind I had the picture of a place that is fully packed with tourists. Not any tourists, but Germans. After Mallorca, Thailand is the second most popular holiday destination for my folks. The thing you have to know about traveling Germans is that they usually try to avoid each other. Nobody knows the underlying reason, but Germans do not really like to meet each other while they are traveling. The same occurs for me. Of course, it depends where you are. If you have not talked in your mother tongue in weeks, then it might be nice to meet someone from your home country to talk in your language again for a little while. But that is about it. Usually, it is already enough for one day. If I did not want to meet Germans every day, I should rather stay away from Thailand. That is what I was thinking. Unfortunately, you cannot really avoid Thailand. At the end, all roads are leading there at some point. If you are looking for cheap flights to anywhere in Southeast Asia, even back to Europe, Bangkok is the place to go. Especially, when you are planning to visit Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Myanmar, Thailand is located in the center of all those countries. At some point, you must travel through the country. So that is the reason why I ended up in Thailand. After all, it is definitely a great destination if you are into scuba diving and snorkeling. Like I am. I gave Thailand a try… In the following, I will sum up my experience and my impressions.
First Stop – Khao Lak
After I finished working for three weeks in Melaka, Malaysia, where I barely did anything else but working and eating, I decided to treat myself on Christmas. Scuba diving in the world famous Similan Islands. Expensive, but totally worth it! With Khao Lak Explorers, I went to the North Point and Breakfast Bend. Two breathtaking, incredible dives! Visibility of 20m, crystal clear water, turtles, sharks, so much colorful marine live to explore. It was a delight! Plus, finally I got some very good pictures of me diving. That was the best Christmas present ever!
Second Stop – Koh Lanta
After my month in the Philippines, I thought I was used to bad transportation. Until I got to Thailand. That was a whole different dimension. The distance from Khao Lak to Koh Lanta is not far at all. If you are going straight, you can make it in not even three hours. Well, if they would come on time and skip all unnecessary stops in-between. First, I had to wait two and a half hours until they picked me up at my hotel, then they brought us to their ‘bus stop’ in Krabi, which was a restaurant where you had for another two hours. Thai business. They just bring you there without telling you in advance, they let you wait, so you have to order food. At the end, they make not only money with the transportation, but also with food and drinks. I have to admit that is quie a smart business.
After 10 horribly long hours I finally arrived in Koh Lanta. I was supposed to arrive there in the early afternoon; instead I ended up there late in the evening. A whole day was wasted because of the bad infrastructure.
Koh Lanta is the neighbor island of Koh Phi Phi, which is famous for the setting of the movie ‘The Beach’. It is supposed to be very beautiful, but also packed with tourists. Not any tourists, but the crazy party ones. Exactly the reason why I did not go there. I prefer more quiet places like Koh Lanta.
The Four Islands Tour
Unfortunately, diving there was too expensive. So I had to think about another activity. Like the ‘4 Islands Tour’ where we went snorkeling in Koh Chuek and Koh Maa. I could not see much because the visibility was really bad. It was not the beast spot for snorkeling. Not really surprising if you consider the hundreds of tourists swimming around one rock formation. It was quite entertaining anyway. While we were snorkeling, one injury after another occurred. First, one girl underestimated the currents and ended up in the sharp rocks. She got several cuts from that. Then, another guy came up the boat with a broken mask and therewith glass fragments all over his face. There was blood everywhere. Thailand seems to be a dangerous place… After first aid, we continued our trip to Koh Mook where we were swimming trough a 50m long dark cave, which was pretty cool! At the other end of the cave was a hidden, tiny beach of white sand and crystal-clear turquoise water surrounded by cliffs. The moment I came out of the cave, I felt like being part of the movie ‘The Beach’. That was truly nice! Afterwards, we stopped at the white sand beach of Koh Ngai to have lunch. Another very beautiful place! I am actually surprised that there were no hotels yet. It would be the perfect spot. The beauty and quietness of exotic paradise in the middle of nowhere. However. It was already in the afternoon and we had to head back to Koh Lanta. The entertainment continued. Why? Because of our extreme ride back. The Thai long tail boat is not the best means of transportation when the sea is very wavy. First, everyone got continuously wet from the waves hitting the boat. Then, the first ones were scared to flip over and put their live jackets on. The actually extremely relaxed and cool captain was all the sudden nervous and focused very hard on not flipping over. I liked it. It was like riding the rollercoaster. Only on the sea. Definitely something new 😉
One of the main reasons why Thailand is more than ever a very popular spot for travelers and backpackers is its world famous party, the so-called Full Moon Party. Unfortunately, full moon occurs only once a month. Since Thai people are business people, they know how to make more money out of this ‘unique’ party concept. How? Well, there is a Half Moon Party, a Dark Moon Party, a Jungle Party, a Goa Party and so on. Let’s just sum it up in ‘Everyday Party’.
Ever since I am on my party break, I was not really interested in exploring Thailand’s party life. At some point, I ended up in some pretty locations in Koh Lanta anyway. There are for example the Mushroom and the Freedom Bar. Only two out of many more cool places. Both of which are located right on the beach and entirely decorated with black lights and fluorescent colors. It could not be any more cliché: Being on the beach, laying on the ground on comfortable and colorful blankets and cushions, in front of you the moving sea, jugglers playing with fire, in the background relaxing music, on the menu a variety of cheap cocktails, joints and happy shakes. What else could you possibly ask for?
Third Stop – Koh Samui
And there it was. After a couple of great first days in Thailand, all the sudden I ended up in the hell of tourism. I found the place I always imagined of Thailand. Koh Samui. No more cheap Tuktuks waiting at the ferry station to pick you up for a decent price. No, no. Instead, nothing but expensive only taxis waiting for you. Of course only with fixed prices. No more bargaining. From now on, Thailand would not be a cheap holiday destination anymore.
I did not want to go to Koh Samui at all, but I was meeting there with a friend from Germany to celebrate New Year’s Eve together. She was traveling there with her boyfriend. If she was not there, I would have totally skipped Koh Samui, well, actually Thailand in general. However. I wanted to see her again, so I went to Thailand anyway.
Unfortunately, New Year’s Eve was not the best time to travel in Thailand at all. It was the peak of the peak of the season. Every single hostel was sold out. There were people everywhere. The island was packed!
My hostel was located in the less popular and yet growing into a fancy district Bophut, which is famous for its Fisherman’s Village. It is not as popular as the Lamai and Chewang district yet. Why? Because you just cannot effort anything. Eating and drinking there is as expensive as in Europe. I could not believe it. All the sudden, I should pay three times as much for the same kind of food that I was eating a couple of days before in another town in Thailand. Welcome to the touristic island of Koh Samui where it is all about money. Nothing about culture or authenticity anymore. Only making money. Like my hostel. The ‘Let’s go Backpackers’. I was staying there for New Year’s Eve and of course, it was fully booked, furthermore overbooked. I was staying in a six-dorm room that was already too tight for six people, but then they decided to squeeze everything even tighter together and put another mattress on the floor. Without asking, no discount. Plus, there was only one bathroom for nine people. You can imagine how long you had to wait for each pee… I do not have any high standards at all and the hostel was clean, but overbooking without asking is definitely not customer friendly…
After four days in Koh Samui it was really time to leave the island again. I only stayed that long to spend some time with my friend from Germany. Otherwise, I would have skipped the island entirely what I highly recommend every Thailand traveler who is not looking for a party holiday, bur for an authentic experience instead.
Let’s sum it up: The whole island was packed with people. Everything was extremely expensive. I did not join a single day trip tour because the prices were ridiculously expensive. Instead, I rented a scooter and enjoyed the freedom of driving around and exploring the island on your own. I did not only rent a scooter because it was the only affordable thing on the island, but also because the public transportation was the worst there. Only way too expensive taxis everywhere waiting to pick you up…
Fourth Stop – Koh Tao
I was really looking forward finally to arrive in Koh Tao, the Turtle Island. More than 20 dive sites waiting for me to be explored. One week of diving, diving, nothing but diving! More than 60 dive centers on the small island close to Koh Panghan guarantee dives for reasonable prices. Koh Tao is the cheapest place to get your dive certification in whole Thailand. Quiet waters and a good visibility make it a popular spot for not only beginners, but also for advanced divers. The underwater world is full of surprises! On one dive, for example, we saw a blacktip reef shark, which happens very rarely. We were very lucky 🙂 Finally, I was spending a pretty good time with the diver community again. I can highly recommend the ‘Big Blue Diving’ center if you appreciate good organization, time management and safety standards. But if you are about to make your PADI Open Water, I would rather prefer a smaller dive center, because this one is very, very, very busy. It can easily happen that you are in a group of 6 beginners. In my opinion, definitely too much.
Last but not least – Bangkok
Even though I enjoyed diving a lot, I could not wait to leave Thailand and to move on to another place. Why? Because I have never been to a more touristy country before. It appears like all the islands have only one purpose to fulfill: tourism. Nothing authentic anymore. Everything is about making money. Since Thailand is still a very popular destination for backpackers and travelers in general, Thai people do not really care about good service and hospitality anymore. Why? Because there is no need to. The tourists are coming anyway. Even if there are all different kind of scamps and rip offs, even though Thai people do not give a shit about you; the beaches are yet too beautiful, the infrastructure is too good and the food compared to European prices is still too cheap to skip the country. What I am writing sounds really bad and I do not want to make some general statements, but being friendly and helpful is something else. It rarely occurs in Thailand. Let’s put it this way: The more money you are willing to pay, the friendlier the people will treat you. I cannot even blame them. Their beautiful country has been invaded from Western people for cheap partying, sightseeing and relaxing. There is not much space left for locals anymore… I guess that is what happens with tourism… To make it even worse: During my brief stay, I almost felt like being back in Germany. They were everywhere! No matter where I went there was always someone speaking German. Thailand seems to be the 18th Bundesland now. Certainly the second most popular destination for vacation after Mallorca…
After all, the Philippines are still my number one country in Southeast Asia. It is so much easier to get in touch with locals and hang out with them. They are still treating you friendly and helping you if you are lost or looking for something. Of course, it is also about money, but not as bad as in Thailand. There you are nothing, but a tourist and people make money with you. That is what it is all about and that is exactly how they will treat you. Tourist equals costumer equals money. It would barely happen to you to be invited to a family’s home or for dinner or anything… The Philippines on the other hand are less touristy and still more authentic. I hope this will last for a little while… Tourism might bring out the best of a country, but certainly not in people.
Having this sad it is obviously time to move on to the next country. I wonder what to expect in Vietnam…