My trip to Thailand inspired my favorite recipe for successful solo traveling. It reads like this:
Do a bit of research about the country you are going to visit and its tourist regulations, but not too much planning.
Have in mind a few places you’d like to visit, but stay open to the unexpected as the best part of your trip.
Book a hostel for the first night or two in a convenient location (near the airport/pier, or close to downtown); it´s best to choose an option which allows you to pay on arrival and with a good cancellation policy. After a long flight and transfers, it feels good to know where you will stay, but..
do not anticipate too much: you’ll get the most reliable and interesting information (including tips on how to save money) from the locals and other travelers, so..
it’s wise to leave room for sudden changes or rethinking.
That frame of mind proved wise for solo traveling in Thailand.
When I arrived in Bangkok, I knew I wanted to take the night train to Surat Thani, so I booked a hostel very close to the train station, called @Hua Lumpong. I was able to reach the train station by foot and get info about the next steps without too much hassle. I had booked three nights at the hostel, but I didn’t really know how to spend my last day there (had planned too much ;)). The impact of the extremely hot weather of February on my body made me refrain from taking walks in the city. After looking at the photos of the floating market displayed at the hostel’s desk, I surrendered to my curiosity. But the reality was disappointing! I had to get up very early and take a long drive through the city in order for the organizers to pick up ten more backpackers and be squeezed into a minivan with a way too freezy aircon. When we reached the market, it was already past 8 AM, and apparently the best stuff was already gone.. ( that was a bad choice driven by the fact I had booked three nights at the hostel while two would have been enough.)
In Bangkok, I did enjoy visiting the reclining Buddha, instead. The golden statue reproduces the Buddha as he was resting at the moment he reached enlightenment. I was delighted to take photos of the Thai people while they were praying and making offerings.
The visit to the Buddhist ruins in Ayutthaya was also wonderful, but very tiring. After getting off the bus, I had to walk for a while under a merciless sun, and in the end decided to rent a motorcycle. I went back to town after a couple of hours.
Before hopping on the overnight train to Surat Thani (part of a low-cost, panoramic way of reaching Koh Phangan island), I visited one of the malls recommended by somebody at the hostel: an infinite sequence of shops and offers and too many temptations, but still a perfect way to kill time before leaving the city.
At the State Railways desk in the train station, I retrieved the ticket I had booked online and I was also offered cheap bus and boat tickets to Koh Phangan.
I had chosen to see Phangan Island because a friend who had been working in Bangkok for months had recommended it (together with Koh Samui, which is not far from Phangan). I knew that every month the island hosts a huge beach party called the Full Moon Party, and even though I am not such a party animal (quite the contrary, in fact), I am fond of nights spent on a beach looking at the sky, and I thought Koh Pang´an looked promising. I was right. I only stayed on the island a few days, but it totally conquered me and I can’t wait to visit again: it’s definitely one of the places that will always stay in my heart.
If I ever go back there, or if I was you, future traveler, I’d do the following at Koh Phangan:
After you get there by ferry, slip past the locals who meet you at the pier and try to take you to some resort they know, find your way to the market and rent a motorbike. If you can’t ride a motorbike, get yourself a map and hitchhike to the northwestern tip of the island (just say “Koh Ma”), where the beach is quiet and there’s a view of the small inhabited island of Koh Ma, which you can reach by foot when it´s low tide. Rent a bungalow and start unwinding from the long trip.
Once you feel rested, get up early and start exploring the island with the motorbike or simply ask a trusted local to show you around. The island offers stunning views of the jungle and the sea, and you never tire of taking photos of the locals during their daily routines. During a bus ride, I also caught sight of an elephant roaming free at the edge of the jungle! Of course, all of this is the bright side of the Ko Pang´an coin. The other side is more complicated.
If you visit during the days of the Full Moon Party, you’ll easily become the target of greedy locals. It’s very easy to get lost with the motorbike on the island and run out of gasoline. It happened to me the day before the Full Moon Party. One of the guys driving the big jeepneys to take tourists around found me walking and offered to help. In the end, he asked way more money for a ride to the gasoline station and back than I had expected! If you visit during the “hottest” days of the month, it will also be more difficult to find a place to stay.
After Koh Panghan, I took a bus from Surat thani to Phuket.
Because I couldn’t find online a hostel to stay at, I got worried about not finding a place to sleep (a worried mind during a trip isn’t anything to follow or take seriously, but I did). I had booked a hotel room online for three nights. It was a total disaster. My room was above a nightclub bar and I wasn’t able to get a good rest during the entire time I stayed there ( again, too much planning lead to a bad choice.)
However, the beach in Phuket is huge and the sunsets are stunning. I can’t forget my surprise while watching the sea becoming pink/blue, a real treat for the heart. That’s also one of the most popular beaches I’ve ever visited, so do not expect to chill out and spend time with yourself in Phuket. While going back to the hotel in Phuket, I saw an ad about boat trips to the Similan Island Marine National Park. It looked interesting, so I did a bit of online research that same night and decided to go there. I actually wanted to book a three-day trip with camping, but I decided it was out of my budget, so I went for the day trip. The Similan Islands are the most beautiful place I’ve visited in Thailand, I can’t recommend it enough. Everything was perfect: the beach, the water, the untouched nature, the company, the food: just amazing!
After the trip to the Similans, I decided to go visit a couple of friends who had just moved from China to the small island, Koh Lipe and were about to build a hut resort there. Koh Lipe was one of the most recent Thai islands opened to tourism. When I visited there, it already had many resorts, restaurants and shops. I admit that I found myself in a welcoming and friendly atmosphere there which greatly exceeded my expectations.
It was quite easy and natural to meet fellow travelers, exchange stories and enjoy the beauty of the island together. The island has three main beaches not far from one another and a “walking street” with shops, small restaurants, pharmacies and massage centers where you can find everything you need before going back to chill along the seaside. Koh Lipe is a good compromise between the relaxed, laid back island life and a place with many opportunities to meet other people and make new friends. My favorite spot was Sunrise Beach.
Time flew by on Koh Lipe. I had planned to stay one week, but I ended up spending more than two weeks there.
There’s no way you can make travel plans and stick to them, you discover so many wonderful things to see and do during your stay! So stay present and enjoy!