Thailand – From Bangkok to Phuket
After our first positive experiencein Asia you can imagine how excited we were to start our next trip to the far east. To be more specific: to Thailand. So, Thailand was the place. Number 10 on the list of the most visited countries world-wide. Which is exactly why we hesitated to travel there before. It feels like everyone is currently flying there or has been there before. However, we wanted to use our leftover vacation from the previous year to spend some time in the sun in March. So there was no way past Thailand. Without revealing too much I can already say that we were able to personally convince ourselves that this Thailand-hype is justified. We can confidently state that it is definitely worth travelling there – especially in March.
Bangkok – The Gate to Asia
As usual, we tried to get an overview on flight options on kayak.de which lead us to Qatar Airways this time. All flights, as well as the service on board, were outstanding. We reached our destination Bangkok after two movies and some sleep. The transfer from the airport to the city center on public transportation went just as smooth and was quite cheap. The transport system is easy to understand and self-explanatory. Our hotel was conveniently located close to a subway station and therefore already the perfect choice.
The Prime Hotel Central Station Bangkok was the perfect choice for multiple reasons as we found out. Rooms have floor-to-ceiling windows with a beautiful view on the town. They are clean. The service is great and breakfast does not leave anything to wish for. And: the price-performance ratio was perfect. From the patio on the 12th floor you have a very nice view on Bangkok’s Old Town, Chinatown and Wat Traimit. Which is so close that it seems like you can almost touch it from there. While enjoying our welcome-drinks up there, you can imagine it did not take much effort to relax and unwind after travelling. Considering that we had already planned our first tour for this evening. It was also necessary to get some rest.
Like we did with all of our tours, we booked our “Bangkok by Night Tuk-Tuk-Tour: Markets, Temples & Food” through getyourguide.de. Completely easy and uncomplicated. This tour was the perfect start for our stay in Bangkok. Expique.com was the local organizer of the tour and our guide Jojo made us feel very welcome in Thailand. The Tuk-Tuk-drivers, who had a surprise-performance up their sleeves for the guests, were experienced and courteous. Apart from that, the Tuk-Tuk-ride is quite an experience by itself.
The tour is structured like a three-course event dinner. With a starter, a main course and a desert at multiple stops in town. We started this 4-hour touron the local market Klongsan Plaza with appetizers, receiving information on our first temple we visited, followed by the best Pad Thai in the trendy restaurant Thipasmai, enjoyed a “Live-Show” near the Royal Palace and went to Yodpiman, a 24-hour flower market, where we got to enjoy our desert at The Market Experience. This evening-tour was just awesome. Comfortable temperature outside, no huge crowds and the traffic was low. With all these positive first impressions we could happily fall asleep that first night.
Outside Bangkok on Extraordinary Markets
Very punctual at 06:10 a.m. the following morning, we were picked up in front of our hotel for our next tour “Damnoen Saduak Floating Market & Maeklong Train Market Tour”. Our guide “T” from the local organizer Bigcountry Vacation welcomed us and so we hopped on the minivan, picked up further guests for this tour and then drove outside of Bangkok for about one hour to the train station Ka Long. Here we briefly visited a saline before the train arrived right on time.
The train ride took about 30 minutes which we used to enjoy the landscape and watch the locals starting their day. However, the highlight of this train ride was yet to come, because we were on the train that passes through the market! When we reached the market, the train slowed down to step speed and we were able to watch the “play” below us – the locals and their market stalls, surrounded by tourists. The terminal station is right after the market in Mae Klong.
After getting off the train, we had 30 minutes to explore the market until the train left again. This time we would not be on the train though. We could experience the “play” from the other perspective. From the train tracks. It is just amazing to watch how the market stalls get pulled back. The sun shields get pulled in to make space for the passing train that just barely fits through the scene. This spectacle happens eight times per day. A good spot for photos is on the street right before the terminal station.
From there we were picked up again by the minivan and headed towards the boats (“James Bond boat”) that would take us to the Damnoen Saduak market. To be honest, just the boat ride is an adventure already. Once we reached the market we had 1.5 hours to explore, shop, eat and relax. The offered tour in a farmer’s boat on the floating market for an extra 150 Baht per person should be on your plan though. This is the only way to really get to full experience of the floating market because many market stalls can only be reached by boat. During the boat tour on the market, other boats stop next your boat offering food and drinks. Accept these offers and just float along the channels.
After the floating market it was time to head back to Bangkok. It is always a great feeling returning from a successful and enriching tour that you booked form home, where you basically have no idea what to expect in detail. More tours, just like this one, were awaiting us on this trip in Thailand, where everything just went perfect starting at the organization of the tour, to the tour guide until the content of the tour.
In the Heart of Bangkok – the Grand Palace, Wat Pho, Wat Arum and Wat Traimit
On our way back from the floating market, “T” offered to drop us off near the Grand Palace. Since the tour started so early in the morning, we still had over half a day to explore the Oldtown of Bangkok, with its many temple complexes.
Our first stop was the Grand Palace because the opening hours are restricted (8:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m.). For your information: If you are not wearing long pants and shirts with sleeves in these high temperatures, we recommend buying suitable pants and shirts before you enter the palace. There will be enough sales people offering proper clothing. Remember that the prices are negotiable and you can probably get the price down by 50 percent. Otherwise you will pay the same price than in the palace (where you cannot negotiate the price). A pair of pants should not cost more than 100 Baht.
Entrance to the palace costs 500 Baht per person, which is kind of a stiff price, but it is definitely worth it. Plan at least one hour (two would be better) for exploring the entire complex, consisting of the Royal Palace, government buildings and temples. The total area of the Grand Place is over 200.000 m2 – which is about 30 soccer fields.
When entering the palace, take one of the free guides in your preferred language and get an overview of the area and buildings. If you are not patient enough for that, you can also just wander around the site and admire the beauty of the complex. All the others will probably be heading towards the Temple of the Emerald Buddha on the grounds of the Grand Palace, trying to find out why it is not made out of emeralds.
When you reach the upper level, you will find more information on Buddhism. The numerous buildings in site pose as great photo locations, like the western façade of the manuscript library (Hor Phra Monthien Dharma). Make sure to not miss out on the Borom Phirom building, the Chakri Maha Prasat hall and the Dusit Maha Prasat hall.
Not far from the Grand Palace you will find the Wat Pho Temple. This temple is famous for its 46 meters long and 15 meters high reclining Buddha. Entrance is 200 Baht per person and you should definitely not skip this sight. The entire complex has an inviting atmosphere, a manageable size and there is more to discover than just the reclining Buddha.
When leaving the Wat Pho it is only a few steps to the riverbank of the Chao Phraya river, which you can easily cross on a little ferry for only 4 Baht per person to reach the next temple. While crossing the river you can already see the tower of the temple on the other side of the river. Entrance to the Wat Arum Temple is only 50 Baht per person. This temple is just impressive and definitely deserves it space on the must-see list for Bangkok.
To get back to the eastern side of the river we hopped back on the ferry and took the metro to Wat Traimit Temple. This temple is known for its five-ton golden Buddha statue. Entrance is 40 Baht per person, which is a fair price. Don’t miss out on this temple.
Our hotel was not far from Wat Traimit temple, so we took up the opportunity and went in for a rest and got ready for the evening. The plan was to check out the famous tourist-road Khaosan Road. Those of you who like to do multiple things at once will definitely enjoy this place. Trying scorpions, crocodile meat or centipedes, relaxing while enjoying a massage, partying in a club (with or without naked flesh), going shopping or just enjoying dinner – Khaosan Road offers it all at once. This circus-like road is worth a visit – but not really more.
Outside of Bangkok in an Antique City
The following day we left Bangkok again for a day-trip to the former capital Ayutthaya, which is located about one hour north of Bangkok and is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Our tour “Ayutthaya: 5 UNESCO Temples Small Group Tour From Bangkok” started at 7:10 a.m. sharp by hotel pick-up. BigcountryVacation was the local tour organizer again. Once more they convinced with great organization and communication skills, and also our guide Siri did a great job!
Multiple stations were visited during the tour of the splendid old town of Ayutthaya. The temples Wat Chai Watthana Ram, Wat Lokaya Sutha (reclining Buddha), Wat Phra Sri Sanphet, Wat Mahathat and Wat Ratchaburana were on the agenda, as well as a lunch break at the Kantary Hotel (with the best Sushi ever). The final stop was at the Chao Sam Phraya National Museum. FYI: The famous Buddha-head in the Banyan Tree can be found at Wat Mahathat, which was also part of this tour.
Visiting the old ruins and partially destroyed temple complexes is fascinating and impressive – and a strong contrast to all the flawless complexes in Bangkok. A coherent picture was created by the explanations of our guide Siri regarding the historic background of those times and the former prevailing prosperity. However, as already many times before (and there is no difference in different cultures), everything was destroyed by humans and wars.
The National Museum emphasizes on the historic development again. Ayutthaya existed for 400 years and counted over one million inhabitants in its flowering period. 33 kings ruled in this time period and it was a multicultural place with various religious groups. One highlight, if not even the highlight of the day, was to be found in the heart of the museum. Placed and displayed securely behind thick glass you can see a bone from Buddha. All over the world you find exhibited Buddha bones, but you cannot get any closer to them than here in the museum in Ayutthaya.
In the Heart of Bangkok – Chinatown and Rooftop Bar
The ride back to Bangkok took about one hour (the entire tour took about 10 hours but is a must-do in our opinion) and we were dropped off in front of a train station, which was conveniently located across from our hotel. We passed our hotel, walked a few blocks further and found ourselves right in Chinatown. It is a great experience to wriggle through the alley ways and markets, in between the houses, where you cannot even see the sky because of all the market stalls. That is exactly how you imagine Chinatown! On our way back to the hotel we stopped at a street food stand for dinner and enjoyed authentic street-cuisine for only 60 Baht per person – also an adventure by itself.
After reaching the hotel we relaxed a little bit from this exiting day and got ready for the night – our last night in Bangkok. The plan was to spend this last evening in a rooftop bar. We chose the Moon Bar in the Banyan Tree Bangkok Hotel. It is easy reachable by metro. The walk through the hotel complex and the luxurious displays were the right attunement for the evening.
However, when we reached the top, our expectations were even exceeded. The 360-view over Bangkok from the 61st level is just breathtaking and you have this great feeling as if you float over town (especially after one or the other cocktail). The clientele was well mixed and we enjoyed the night until closing time despite the luxurious ambience. On our way home, we hopped into a tuk-tuk and disappeared into the night at full throttle.
Down to the South to Phuket
Bangkok was not overcrowded and chaotic or dirty. The town seemed to be in a constant and even flow – very pleasant and enjoyable. The two day-tours outside of Bangkok should definitely be included into your travel-planning. Don’t worry, there is enough time for the temples, Khaosan Road and further sights. We left with the impression of having missed out on about 1% of what there is to see, and that was perfect! That’s how this city keeps its appeal even after departure.
The following day was a pure travel day. After breakfast, we took the metro to the airport. From there it was a one-hour flight with Thai Smile to Phuket in the south. After our arrival we organized a hotel-transfer on the first booth we passed by. For 700 Baht we booked a private transfer to our hotel on Natai Beach, which was about 30 km from the airport. Make sure you do not use a cab with a taximeter because you have no clue how much you will end up paying. Negotiate the price.
We reached our hotel after a 30-minute drive – the Aleenta Phuket Resort & Spa on the beautiful and lonely Natai Beach. Geographically spoken, the hotel is located right in the middle of Khao Lak and Phuket. The hotel itself is amazing! It was not to be found on the usual booking pages like booking.com. It was a visit to the DERTOUR travel agency that called our attention to this hotel and we didn’t even hesitate to book.
We decided on a “Pool Suite” with a private pool, jacuzzi, and private beach access. At this point, we strongly recommend asking for „Pool Suite 103” when making a reservation. It is conveniently located and was the one we fortunately occupied. When making a reservation in this hotel, it is not exactly obvious that some room-types or villas are located across the street, away from the beach. The hotel complex is split in two parts by the road. The main part including the front desk and the two restaurants is located on the near-beach side.
Our expectations were huge but were significantly surpassed. Our Pool Suite, the service (room service came twice a day bringing fresh fruit, water and snacks), breakfast and the hotel complex including the beach were just perfect. The beach was very clean, lonely and the water was enjoyably warm. That’s exactly how you imagine paradise.
If you don’t want to eat inside the hotel every day you can choose from two restaurants that are in close proximity and even walking distance. One restaurant is located just south of the hotel, along the road. Another one – Co-Sea House – is also located on this street, but north, and it takes about 20 minutes to walk there. Great thing: You can reach the Co-Sea House by a free shuttle service. The shuttle service is offered by the hotel with the intent to reach the sister hotel Akyra Beach Resort which is located right across from the restaurant. It is available until 22:00 p.m.. On the way to the restaurant you will also find a small supermarket. Remember to bring cash if you want to buy anything there.
The Aleenta was in a perfect location for us, as it was quiet and isolated from civilization. The next town is 6 km away and easily reachable by bike, motorcycle or car. During our time there, we focused on the amenities the hotel had to offer and chose one of the two hotel restaurants for dinner that first day in paradise, which we just enjoyed on our private pool and on the beach.
On the Trail of The Man With The Golden Gun
As you can imagine we did not aim to idle away our vacation. Paradise offers a lot of adventures and places to visit. On the third day, we were picked up from the hotel at 5:10 a.m. sharp by our adorable local guide Angi from Phuket Let´s Go for the day-trip “Sunrise in Phangnga with Off-Peak James Bond Island Visit”.
We were a group of six tourists, the driver and our guide Angi who was so full of wit for her job, that you can only call this passion. The first stop was at the extensive national park Ao Phang Nga, located in the province Phang Nga with its capital Phang Nga – easy to remember, right?!
The view point Samet Nangshe offers a great view over the bay of Phang Nga and was the first highlight early in the morning on this tour. You reach the view point after a 30-minute hike uphill on a sandy path, in the dark, only with the light of your mobile phone. It is not necessary to be sportive for the hike – but it sure is challenging (however, there is a possibility to take a car up there too). The view from up there is amazing. While watching the beautiful sunrise our guide served a small breakfast. Water was provided and available throughout the day.
After sunrise we walked back down to the van and headed for the long-tail boat. By boat we reached the small island Khao Phing Kan – better known as the James Bond Island. This island was the film set for the James-Bond-movie “The Man With The Golden Gun” from the seventies. The famous rock needle has another name though (Khao Ta-Pu). The short visit to this island was exiting and there is more to see than you think. We recommend watching the movie before the visit to even enjoy the visit a little more.
After this stop we went on to a kayak tour through “The Room”, stopped at a cave complex, a cave with a shell-cemetery and mural paintings and heard many stories told by Angi. For lunch, which was also the end of this fabulous tour, we went to The Adventure Mountain Club. For us, this impressive tour is a must-do and we can purely recommend it.
Getting up so early in the morning had two advantages – besides the sunrise – first, we were basically the first ones at every sight and therefore there were only very few people. Secondly, after a seven-hour tour, the day was still young and usable. Even if this meant sleeping at the pool.
At night, there was a „White Night“ party at the sister hotel Akyra Beach Resort including an incredibly good BBQ-buffet on the beach, a fire-show and a happy hour, that we surely did not skip. We also found outfits to match the motto in our closet and had the shuttle drive us over and right into the weekend…
Head first into Entertainment
We spent the „weekend“ comfortably on the beach and in the ocean; chilled down in our private pool and got bronzed by the sun. We said cheers to life, read our books, listened to music – in short: we just relaxed. By booking eight nights in the hotel we received a special offer which included a 60-minute full-body Thai-massage per person – this was the best massage we ever had by the way.
As appropriate for a Monday, we started our last tour early in the morning. Our last day-trip was “Phi Phi Islands: Early Bird Tour From Phuket and Khao Lak” and it was supposed to be the grand finale of our vacation. The local tour company was Siam Adventure World and Andi was our German-speaking guide for the day, supported by his Thai counterpart Lucky. As usual, we were picked up very punctual at our hotel for this tour at 5:40 a.m. and headed towards the Royal Phuket Marina.
The arrival at the harbor was kind of frightening. It was definitely not a calm and quiet breakfast, without masses of people. Let me tell you, it was chaotic and there were so many people that we thought all notorious crowds of Thailand-tourists that we haven’t seen yet finally sneaked up on us. Luckily, the chaotic atmosphere vanished relatively quick when all people were assigned to their respective tour and boat. After the assignment to our group we could take a relaxed walk to our boat and start the tour. The group consisted of approximately 25 tour guests plus crew members.
This tour took about nine hours and had multiple stops along the Phi Phi Islands. The first stop was at the famous Maya Bay on Ko Phi Phi Leh. That most of you know from the movie “The Beach” with Leonardo DiCaprio. Currently, the beach is closed and it is not possible to enter. So the boat stopped in the bay and we could take our photos from a safe distance. Afterwards, we had our first swimming and snorkeling stop in the Pileh Lagune. Which was amazing!
On our way to Monkey Beach, where we could watch monkey from the boat, we made a short photo-stop in front of the Viking Cave. Swiftlet birds‘ nests are harvested here which are utilized to make a very expensive traditional Chinese soup. Afterwards we went on to Ko Phi Phi Don.
This main island seemed like an entertainment park for young adults. Our goal here was to reach Viewpoint Number 2 up on the hill. We had to climb a few steps to get there but the view from up there is phenomenal. There was enough time scheduled at this stop to take all the pictures you need and even relax and just enjoy the view.
Back on the boat, we were on the way to our second snorkeling stop not far from Ko Phi Phi Don. Unexperienced snorkelers or complete snorkel-newbies should definitely take up the chance and try swimming with the fish here because it is a lot of fun. This underwater-world is fascinating and you do not get to see this every day. The water is warm and clear, and there is enough time to try it out.
The last stop for the day was on Bamboo Island in the north. Lunch was served here on this lonely island. There was sufficient time to swim and snorkel at your own pace. Anyway, what is enough time though?! Is there ever enough time to spend on a paradisiacal island with white sand and crystal-clear water?! There just cannot be enough time for something like that. But even the greatest things have to come to an end at some point in order to keep their value. So we headed back to the Phuket Marina.
And that is how this absolutely recommendable tour ended. The entire team around our guide Andi were absolutely professional and reliable. As well as the organization and communication before the tour. After the tour we had the possibility to purchase pictures and a video of the tour. Which were provided via a link.
Usually, we don’t buy pictures or videos like this, but especially the underwater pictures were so appealing that we just could not resist. Three days later. The link for all photos and videos was provided by the SAW-Team. After checking out the pictures we definitely did not regret getting them. At this point we want to say a big Thank You to the photographer of the day. He provided a very discreet service and was always ready to take pictures for the guests with their devices. Great job!
We used the last two days before we had to go back home to enjoy the pool and the hotel and so the beach. So we got up early to work out at the beach. Went for a beach walk to the Natai Pier. We enjoyed incredibly good food, the great Thai-hospitality and are now able to comprehend why Thailand is one of the most-demanded vacation destinations world-wide. Thailand, where fruits taste like chocolate does at home.