The real voyage of discovery consists, not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyesMarcel Proust
In September of 2019 my friend and I took our first ever trip to Asia to experience a new continent and country! We both had an amazing time on the trip and I wanted to document our experiences here and offer some tips and recommendations on places to visit for anyone thinking of going to Thailand in the future! Enjoy!
We flew from Stansted in the UK to Bangkok on a flight that took us around 10 hours. Bangkok was not our final destination however so we were sightseeing here for a day at the start and end of our trip in order to take a connecting flight to Koh Samui. This took less than 2 hours and was very easy as Koh Samui is a Thai island and so domestic flights were a lot less hectic than international ones! I believe we spent around £900 on flights which was the highest cost of the whole trip but this did include our return flights and domestic flights to Koh Samui where we flew with Bangkok airways so overall I wouldn’t say this was unreasonable. I would say the only stressful part of this trip was the announcement of strikes at British airways shortly before we were departing from the UK where the airline changed our flight home without telling us to days later than we planned, but this was quickly resolved after a stern phone call!
Flying into Bangkok and staying there for a day at either end of our trip meant that we wanted a hotel in the middle of the city so we could pack in as much sightseeing as possible. We stayed at the Millennium Hilton hotel which was quite honestly stunning. Everything was pristine and the food was delicious and it was purely down to the fact that my friend’s mum works in hotels that we were able to stay here or we would not have afforded it ourselves! I would definitely recommend this though if you aren’t on a tight budget as it was very central and easy to get around the city. When we reached Koh Samui we stayed in Horizon residence rentals as a family member of mine lives there and was kind enough to let us stay in her flat whilst she was away. The staff here were so incredibly friendly and so I would recommend staying here if you are visiting Koh Samui, it’s also within walking distance to the beach (or a free tuk tuk ride) as well as nearby local shops and restaurants. It also has the benefit of having a little shop next to reception where you can pick up some staples when you first arrive. There’s also a gym, 2 pools to lounge around and high quality, modern flats so I would really look into staying here.
Our Days Out
- Iconsiam shopping mall- This is the prettiest and most breathtaking shopping centre that I have ever been in! There were the most beautiful flower displays and incredible designer shops that I could never afford as well as the whole place being so large and grand that I managed to get lost shortly after arriving!
- Floating market- This is an iconic image so I knew this was something I wanted to do in Bangkok just to experience something so different from my life at home. It was fantastic to see the floating market and ride around on a little boat although the pressure to buy things did settle in after a while!
- Boat Tour- This was something we decided to do because of the fact we only had two days in Bangkok and so we wanted to get around the city as much as we could. The boat tour we went on docked right outside our hotel and so was a perfect way to hop on and off and see the city. Some of the sights included Wat Pho (temple of the reclining Buddha), Wat Arun (temple of dawn) and the Grand Palace.
In Koh Samui:
- Wat Plai Laem- This was one of my favourite places to visit on the trip because of the sheer beauty of the temple. It is sometimes known as the temple of many hands as it features a statue of Guanyin who is believed to be a source of unconditional love. Her many arms represents the ability to reach out and provide help across the world and so the meaning behind the monuments at the temple made it all the more meaningful to me. It was also here that my friend and I were blessed by a Buddhist monk which was a truly memorable experience and one that we did not expect to find ourselves in as the monk had beckoned us over before we realised what was happening! It was wonderful to have this experience and also take away the bands he tied around our wrists which I will keep forever.
- Wat Phra Yai- Also known as the Big Buddha Temple, this was another standout moment of the trip for me as it was the first time in my life that I ever set foot inside a Buddhist temple. It was so peaceful here and the artistry was breathtaking, I will never forget the walk up the steps approaching the Buddha, this is definitely a highlight of Koh Samui for me.
- Grandfather and grandmother rocks- This is just a fun little thing we did as we had heard a lot of people talking about this attraction. Aside from being a great walk with picturesque scenery, the main reason we had heard about this was because of the resemblance of the rocks to some male anatomy…
- Wat Khunaram (Phra Wihan Luang Por Daeng)- Again here there is some fantastic artistry to see in the Buddhist temple and a very surreal moment of being able to visit the shrine of “the Mummy Monk”, Luang Pho Daeng. Yes it is exactly what it sounds like, it is genuinely a mummified monk.
- Samui Elephant Sanctuary- This might have been my favourite experience of the whole trip, although it is hard to pick a favourite. I have always wanted to see an elephant up close but I really struggle with the idea of riding or playing with them for tourism purposes. This is where the sanctuary comes in. This place is truly working so hard to rescue elephants from tourism and make sure they can live a peaceful life in the sanctuary. They have so much space to roam free and are never ridden or made to perform tricks. We got to hear their stories on a tour of the sanctuary, some of which were quite heartbreaking where elephants had been left blind from being whipped in circuses and so I would strongly recommend going to this place or donating in order to help the rescue of more elephants. The tour guides were so knowledgable and incredibly friendly and were happy to introduce you to the elephants and tell you whatever you wanted to know which made the whole experience even more heartwarming. They also have an Instagram account that I follow to keep up to date with the elephants and any more rescue plans so I would recommend checking that out as well!
- Guan Yu- This is a beautifully made and fantastic shrine to Guan Yu and is also a place to visit whilst you’re out at local restaurants as it’s quite conveniently placed amongst the hustle and bustle of tourism.
- Mae Ko Island, Mu Ko Ang Thong National Park- We had a great day out on this day although it was a long one! We took part in the day tour that allowed us to go on a boat and took us to Mae Ko Island to visit the National Park here which had some truly breathtaking views after a quite tiring walk up to the viewpoint! There were numerous hiking trails pointed out on this tour which we also did and it was great to get out and explore the area. Once you wanted to relax a bit more you could sit on the lovely beach with the wild monkeys in the trees around you which was fantastic to see! There was also the opportunity to go snorkelling in the sea which I really enjoyed although the water wasn’t quite as warm as I hoped it would be! I would say that you should watch out when getting off a Khlong boat onto the water bridge as it’s very slippery and I’m still surprised I didn’t fall in! We also got to witness a proposal once we reached the viewpoint at the top of the hike and I can honestly say that this guy was doing it right!
- Fisherman’s village- This was my favourite place to eat out and it was such a vibrant place to go in the evenings with the best pad thai I have ever had! This was also where we bought our souvenirs and relaxed on the beach where I was able to get a Thai massage which I would seriously recommend as they really straightened all of my bones out, I felt amazing after! It’s also so much cheaper than having it done in a spa at home!
- Be respectful with what you’re wearing. This goes for when you’re out and about but particularly when visiting Buddhist temples. If you’re female it’s important to have your knees and shoulders covered as a sign of respect. Also before you enter it is common practice to take your shoes off. If you don’t come dressed in the appropriate attire you will most likely be offered a shawl in order to cover up so try to avoid this happening!
- Expect Bangkok to be hectic! I knew Bangkok was a busy place but it really blew my mind just how busy it was. The driving was also quite manic and weaving throughout the traffic had me on the edge of my seat at times! As did seeing people and children on motorbikes with no helmets!
- Be respectful of the culture. Speaking badly against the royal family or Buddha is a serious no no in Thailand and could even get you in trouble with the police so best not to do that!
- Fill out the right paperwork. I don’t know if this is the same for all countries, but flying from the UK you’ll definitely need to fill in a card about your reasons for travelling and other details like this when you arrive and keep the second piece of paper to give back on your return. I had never done this before and was so stressed about losing it but luckily I didn’t! Just be prepared to fill this out before you get to border control or they will ask you to step aside and fill it in on another desk and you may lose your space in the queue.
- Visit sanctuaries. If you are wanting to see wildlife or animals such as elephants please please go to a sanctuary rather than fund a place where they are not treated properly and overworked. The elephants I met had gone through a lot and it was so nice to see them living a peaceful life again.
- Make the most of experiencing a different culture! This was a really eye opening trip for me and the first time I had set foot in Asia and I really valued this opportunity to broaden my perspective on different cultures and experience what they have to offer!
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.Mark Twain
Thanks for reading about my travels in Thailand, I can’t wait for my next adventure whenever that may be! Stay safe everyone XOX