I’ve been to Thailand twice. Once for work, staying only in Bangkok, a city I love and see myself spending more time in, later in life, and once backpacking through the country. This post is mostly about the latter, back in 2015 when I went on a solo trip from Chiang Mai to Ko Lipe: me, myself and my backpack.
You can either click here to read my daily postcards at once or if you don’t care and just want to see a bunch of pictures of Thailand, click here. Hungry? Here a separate post featuring all the Thai food I’ve enjoyed. You can also click here to jump to a list of the hotels I’ve stayed and restaurants I’ve visited in Thailand
Or just keep scrolling.
Postcards from Thailand
Day 1: Soi Loi Khor Market, Chang Mai
Like every Saturday night, a feast of street food takes over this relatively large pedestrian maze, where pretty much all the city gathers together, swarming around thousands of market stalls packed with ridiculously colorful fruit juices and all sorts of Thai food: chicken and pork skewers, curry dishes, never-before-seen vegetables, noodles and dumplings, fish, and all sorts of deep-fried seafood whose smell will come home with you later on. The stalls, seamlessly lying one after the other, are interrupted only by an array of plastic deck chairs, the unpretentious working place for a team of smiley and chatty middle-aged masseurs, whose capable hands play all sorts of tricks on the feet and shoulders of tourists and locals stopping by for an hour or so to relax and watch the river of humanity slowly passing by, well-fed and sated.
And I am pretty confident this massage will help me digest those crunchy deep-fried crickets I had for dinner.
Day 2: a cafe bar in the northeastern part of the old city, Chiang Mai
Lush vegetation, paper lanterns hanging from the ceiling, the unmissable artificial fountain, a tattooed bartender and an overwhelmingly never-ending drinks menu listing hundreds of alcohol-free juices, smoothies and shakes. Fruit drinks in Thailand are a joyful experience: boasting vibrant, almost unnatural colors, you could bet they shine in the dark. Red, white, green, orange, yellow, pink, ruby… Enough to paint a rainbow back and forth.
Time for an ice-cold beer, I think.
Day 3: somewhere on the train between Chiang Mai and Bangkok
The 5:30 a.m. sunrise reveals a misty purple countryside: rice fields, scattered houses and people cycling in the middle of nowhere. Iconic and peaceful.
Day 4: Chinatown, Bangkok
Sampeng Lane is the oldest street in Chinatown. From silky textiles and illuminated noisy toys to misspelled t-shirts and miraculous beauty products, you can find pretty much everything here, all proudly original Made in China. Halfway down Sampeng Lane, turning right into Soi Issaranuphap, you’ll bump into a pretty narrow, dark and crowded long alley with a little river of dirty water running between your feet and stalls on both sides, this time presenting a variety of food either ready to eat or to be cooked: not better definable interiors of some sort of extinct animals, huge puffy vegetables and tiny shiny seeds, chickens, pork, fish and seafood. Everything either raw or deep fried. An overwhelming collection of bizarre shapes, unnatural colors and intense smells enhanced by the increasingly humid temperature that, together with the hundreds of people yelling around you in a mysterious language, seems to be a well-orchestrated attempt to make you dizzy. Once you get out, it takes a minute to cope with the bright light and the new landscape: pink buses, yellow and green cabs honking to find their way across hundreds of scooters and tuk tuks, people carrying large stuffed handcarts and massive Chinese signs covering 80% of the buildings around.
And you can bet somehow you have been sucked into Blade Runner.
Day 5: a restaurant in Bangkok
Traditional everyday restaurants in Bangkok are something between a garage and a home kitchen: plastic tables, wooden stools, white tiles, and basic Thai food. Honest and unpretentious. There are no doors, but one whole side of this place is wide open, allowing cats, heat, smog and sunlight coming in, in no particular order, making the intermittent neon lamps pretty unnecessary. Being the only customer, I end up being served by the whole family. The owner, his two daughters and their grandma, a woman that could have been anything between 80 and 300 years old, bring me the dishes I’ve ordered, spending a good five minutes showing me how they are meant to be eaten.
I feel welcome. And learning.
Day 6: from Bangkok to Ko Lipe
14 hours on a way-too-small lower berth of a second-class sleeper train. 3 hours squeezed in the back left corner of a van together with 12 other backpackers. 4 hours on a speedboat ride to my destination island, followed by 1 hour of walking under a blazing hot sun until I crash in a wooden bungalow with a sea view on the beach.
Feeling the distances is part of the fun, isn’t it?
Day 7: Ko Lipe at night
On my left, 20 meters away, the ocean, fishermen boats passing by, the wind blowing through the palms. On my right, crickets and some unknown animal announcing the upcoming sunrise a bit too early. Mosquitoes playing their symphonies all around my ears.
It’s 4 a.m., pitch dark and I’m never going to complain about London’s nights being noisy anymore.
Day 8: on a beach in Ko Lipe
A quick, sudden storm has quickly given way to an electric blue sky and a massive, big, fat, pink cloud. Not a soul can be spotted on this stretch of beach whose sand has rapidly turned from its original pre-rain white into orange, pink and finally blue. Still, the truth is, after a short while this idyllic landscape bores me to death.
Man, I was made to live in a hell of a city. Not in paradise.
Day 9: Ko Lanta at night
A blue hammock, hanging on the wooden bungalow patio grants a privileged view over a carefully maintained green garden. The now reassuring and familiar crickets soundtrack mixes up with the wind, gently shaking the far head of the skinny palm trees, whose black shapes emerge imposing against a blue, moonlight-powered sky, like giant cardboard cutouts.
And God bless the mosquito repellent.
Day 10: cycling in Ko Lanta
The very southern part of the long road that beautifully stretches along the west coast of Koh Lanta finds you surrounded by a lush tropical forest. A few miles of steep gradients with more degrees than a strong Trappist beer and pretty much the same consequences, interrupted only by herds of cows, troops of monkeys, and rewarding wide-open ocean views.
Does someone have a spare pair of legs, please?
Day 11: a rainy day in Ko Lanta
A temperate, pouring rain has transformed the ocean into an electric green, warm, natural jacuzzi where I’m the only lucky guest. Looking towards the horizon, the sky is opening up while, in the opposite direction, on the shore behind majestic trees and bamboo-made bungalows, a low cloud has taken over the hills all around. The last hours by the sea before heading back to the mainland.
All farewells need a rainy day.
Day 12: Loi Krathong, Krabi Town
It’s the full moon of the 12th month in the traditional Thai lunar calendar, and thousands of floating decorated baskets are released over the river by thousands of people wishing their thousands of dreams will come true. It could be a pretty intense, personal, almost religious moment if it wasn’t for the delirium happening all around: a food and goodies market has spontaneously taken over the riverbank. The soundtrack of loud, questionable Thai rock music is accompanied by barkers shouting at their microphones. The usual deep fried colorful smelly weirdness is placed on a never-ending number of stalls.
I bet the expression “weird and wonderful” was first used to describe one of those surreal bazaars.
More picture of my trip backpacking in Thailand
Accommodation and restaurants I’ve been to in Thailand
A very incomplete list of the accommodations I stayed at and restaurants I ate at during my two trips to Thailand.
- Namton Boutique Hotel, 18 Samlarn Road, Phra Sing, Chiang Mai, Chiang Mai, 50200, Thailand
- Blue Diamond restaurant, 35/1 Moon Muang Rd Soi 9, Si Phum Sub-district, Mueang Chiang Mai District, Chiang Mai, 50200, Thailand
- Taste From Heaven restaurant 34/1 Ratmakka Rd (at Moonmuang Rd), Chiang Mai, 50200, Thailand
- Ploy Pilin restaurant, somewhere half way the road heading to Mu Ko Lanta National Park, Ko Lanta, Thailand delicious juices, truly authentic food unbeatable breathtaking views, managed by lovely smiley people. Really recommended on your way to/from Mu Ko Lanta National Park
- May’s Kitchen restaurant, J23P+6F3, Sala Dan, Ko Lanta District, Krabi 81150, Thailand
- Andaman Resort Sunrise Beach, 36 Moo 7, T. Koh Sarai, A. Muang, Satun, Satun, 91000
- Prince Palace Hotel, 488/800 Damrong Rak Rd (at Bo Bae Tower), Pom Prap Sattru Phai, Bangkok 10100, Thailand
- Grande Centre Point Hotel Ploenchit, 100 Witthayu Rd, Pathum Wan, Bangkok 10330, Thailand
- Hotel Royal Bangkok, 409-421/4 Yaowarat Rd, Samphanthawong, Bangkok, Thailand
- Nalin Kitchen, 1463 Charoen Krung Rd, Bang Rak, Bangkok 10500, Thailand
- Vertigo, Banyan Tree Hotel Bangkok (61st Fl., Rooftop), Sathon, Bangkok 10120, Thailand
- Sky Bar, lebua at State Tower (63rd Fl., at The Dome, Sirocco), Bang Rak, Bangkok 10500, Thailand
- The Speakeasy, 55/555 Lang Suan Rd. (at Hotel Muse, 24th & 25th Fl.), Pathum Wan, Bangkok 10330, Thailand
- Sa Nguan Sri, 59/1 Witthayu Rd, Pathum Wan, Bangkok 10330, Thailand
- Moon Bar, Banyan Tree Hotel Bangkok (61st Fl., Rooftop), Sathon, Bangkok 10120, Thailand
- Scarlett, 188 Silom Rd (at Pullman Bangkok Hotel G, 37th Fl), Bang Rak, Bangkok 10500, Thailand
- Mit Ko Yuan, 186 Dinso Rd, Phra Nakhon, Bangkok 10200, Thailand
- Above Eleven, 38/8 Sukhumvit 11 (at Frasier Suites Sukhumvit Hotel), Vadhana, Bangkok 10110, Thailand