Who’d have thought it would take a global pandemic that shuts down the World to make us sit back in the awkward aeroplane chair that haunts our minds and realise how much we have taken for granted. Of course there’s the everyday things, like having enough toilet roll in the house and being able to see the smile of the person behind the checkout. And then there’s the more unsettling things, like knowing when your next pay cheque is going to come in and not having to worry about catching a deadly illness from a petrol pump. But in an age where you could go on a night out in Cardiff and end up in Ibiza before sunrise (It alway seems to be guys who have the brainwave of heading to the airport after a few jäger bombs doesn’t it?) or bag a last minute trip to Australia – aka literally the other side of the World – with a simple swipe of the finger, one thing we most definitely took for granted before COVID19 was the freedom to travel across countries. The freedom of movement. Which we kind of voted against. Ironically. Ahhh Brexit, does anyone remember that?
As the virus took flight airports shut down, planes were grounded and hotels closed their doors. Summer holidays were cancelled and the feeling of sand in your toes, mouth and in your butt crack (seriously it gets everywhere!) was all but written off for the rest of the year. The only positive to come out of this was the reality that bikini season was officially over before it had began, meaning that there was no need to worry about getting #beachbodyready for the Summer. Of course the irony being that the UK has faced roughly four heatwaves during quarantine and every Tam, Dianne and Harriet are posting semi-naked photos from their gardens instead. Put down the second bowl of pasta Jessica god damnit.
I was lucky enough to visit Thailand in December before the virus brought the skies to a halt. It was my first time visiting Asia, after spending most of my recent vacations across the Atlantic in the USA. I went with three of my girl friends for ten days, but we definitely could’ve done with some more time over there to explore further. We spent three days on the mainland of Phuket after flying in from London Heathrow, and soaked in the full Phuket experience including a half-moon party at Paradise Beach (we’ll drink to literally anything these days), the street-food markets and an elephant sanctuary*
*We did loads of research back in the UK before we went to Thailand to make sure we visited an ethical sanctuary which offered no rides or bathing with the elephants. We visited Phuket Elephant Park which was a small family run sanctuary and made incredible memories here but unfortunately due to the COVID pandemic they have had to permananetely close doors and relocate the animals to another sanctuary due to funding. I was so sad reading this as it was evidently clear how much the founder cared for the animals, he was almost brought to tears telling us about the abuse these beautiful creatures often face. The remaining elephants have now been re-located to Phuket Elephant Sanctuary which is the only ethical sanctuary in Phuket, and the only one I would recommend visiting.
I was the resident travel agent of the group and booked everything myself. I had been browsing holidays in Thailand for a while but they were all a little pricier than what we wanted to spend as a group of girls who usually bag a £120 European City Break as our jet-setting fun. I turned away from package holidays and saught after a DIY jobby, browsing Google for flights and Air B&B for accomodation. I don’t want to blow my own trumpet (that’s exactly what I’m about to do) – but we really lucked out when it came to our accomodation. In Phuket we stayed at The Marina Phuket Hotel in Patong which I found at a really decent price on search engines. It wasn’t too far a walk away from the hustle and bustle of Patong Beach (about a fifteen minute stroll), but distant enough that you couldn’t hear any partying going on at night. It had a cute rooftop pool which overlooked the City and provided the perfect spot to watch the sunset.
Honestly Thailand sunsets were just gorgeous. Everyday I would watch them without fail and still be in awe of the orange glow. The hotel also provided a free shuttle bus down to the town although we always walked- we had to work off those countless bottles of Chang somehow! In terms of the food on offer at the hotel, we ate out every evening so didn’t get to experience much but the breakfast buffet had a decent variety of food available and the burger station on the rooftop was pretty tasty.
The best meal we had in Patong was at Ruen Thai which was a traditional Thai restaraunt not too far from the centre. The food was really tasty and generously priced. We tried out the street food vendors in the city and I braved it with some seafood pad-thai and lived to tell the tale. People warned us before we went about eating meat and seafood from street-vendors, and not to have ice in your drinks etc but honestly I think as long as you use common sense and don’t have a sensitive stomach you’ll be fine – although I take no accountability if you end up on the toilet! Coming from the UK, it was pretty weird at first to see all the fish and lobsters alive in small tanks or trays on the side of the street. We’re not used to seeing live animals like this but you have to remember that the culture is different over there and the produce is fresh. The strangest thing we saw on offer was crocodile meat on a stall which featured a huge crocodile carcass being spit roasted. I’m still not sure if this was just a dummy or if they were actually serving the meat straight off the carcass, I didn’t stick around long enough to have a proper look! We never saw any live mammals being sold at the street markets, this is uncommon in Thailand and happens more in other Asian countries.
If you’re sinking your teeth into the street-food you have to try the banana crepé stalls, they’re around 50 – 70 baaht for fresh banana and nutella pancakes which are just gorgeous. Oh, and if anyone ever asks you if you want to see a ping-pong show, do yourself a favour and say no. And then run.
Once we escaped the buzz of Patong it was all slow and steady from here on out when we landed in Koh Lanta, Krabi. It was over an hours sail away from the mainland so I would say to get comfy on the boat, and pop your sea sickness tablet if you’re a vommer! We were staying at the Wooda House in Lanta Old Town which was a gorgeous wooden villa we booked through Air B&B (use this link to save £35 off your first Air B&B stay!). The hosts Mon and Maayan were really friendly and Mayaan was super helpful in organising our transfer from the dock to the home which was around thirty minutes away. We were emerged in the middle of Old Town which consisted of a few shacks and homes of the locals, and a handful of restaraunts on the seafront. It was definitely a place for relaxing and unwinding and provided the more traditional Thailand experience that we were lusting after. Mon hosts traditional cooking classes in an outdoor kitchen across from the house, unfortunately we didn’t have enough time to try them out but we heard great things about the classes from other guests.
The Old Town is home to a muslim community, which means you’ll hear the call to prayer in the early hours of the morning. This alarm clock was a shock to our system on the first night! But we soon drifted off back to sleep or woke up with the prayer to watch the sun rise from the upstairs balcony. After the first couple of times of hearing the call to prayer, you soon become used to it and can manage to sleep through it. It’s a beautiful sound to hear throughout the day to remind you of the rich and mixed culture you’re surrounded by. Maayan helped us with booking excursions and I would absolutely recommend a Sea Kayaking and cave exploring trip which was taken with Talabeng Sea Kayaking Company.
The full day excursion saw us explore caves on an island only accessible by boat (this involved free climbing and a touch of courage to get up the cliffs so be aware and wear sensible shoes and clothes!) We kayaked around several islands including monkey island where we fed the monkeys our vegetable peels from dinner. We ate lunch on a small beach where a hungry monkey and lizard decided to join us! The tour guides were friendly and informative and it was just such a beautiful day- definitely one of the highlights of our whole trip. The cost worked out at around £35 and it was worth every penny and more.
There’s only a handful of restaraunts in Old Town but the couple that we tried were really tasty and all had a beautiful setting overlooking the water- the perfect Instagram back drop! (Oh come on, don’t pretend that it’s not important!) There’s a cute little spot close to the house that sells home-made gelato and prosecco that has a chilled out vibe to it –you can take the girls out of Wales n’ all that! We decided to rent mopeds on our second day on the island as we wanted to explore a little more and I would definitely recommend doing this. The island is one of the quieter ones with mostly open spaces so its’s the perfect place to get comfortable on a scooter- just make sure you wear your helmet! There was plenty of spots along the way where we just had to stop to take in the view of the clear blue ocean and tropical islands that stretched for miles. It’s clear to see how people could never leave this place.
The last days of our trip were spent on the quieter island of Koh Yao Noi and it was the perfect spot to end our whirlwind vacation. The guys working at the harbour in Koh Lanta laughed when we said where we were going! They told us there was nothing much to do on the island and definitely no full-moon parties there, we were like “that’s exatly what we want!” To be honest I think we were all nursing a mammoth three-day hangover after that half-moon party which saw us become Beer Pong Champions of Patong. After a choppy ride over to the island we had a taxi waiting for us which our Air B&B host Michael kindly helped to arrange. The chilled out vibe followed us from Lanta as we snailed through the deserted streets and beaches in Koh Yao Noi. We felt like we’d found a small nugget of beauty that no other tourists had discovered yet.
It seemed like the only other non-locals around were the die-hard backpackers who hung out in the one semi-lively bar on the beach front. And by lively I don’t mean buckets of vodka and red-bull rowdy, but live acoustic music once-a-week and maybe a shot of tequila if you’re feeling spicy. We stayed at Villa Aria which had the most beautiful view of the ocean from the top bedroom. The villa was designed with traditional Thai houses in mind, so it’s a half open home which takes a little getting used too and explains my friends frantic ‘Please come home I think there’s a monkey upstairs!’ texts when we left her behind to go get pampered in the beach hut. The kitchen/living room area has an open staircase which wraps around to the balcony upstairs, so if a monkey did happen to be on the balcony he could’ve strolled down into the kitchen without having to open any doors- which to be fair could be rather scary for someone who had ruled out one of her legs due to a moped accident! Minus monkey-gate, the house was a perfect spot for us and we rented mopeds from the hut at the bottom of the hill for decent prices which we used to explore the small island a little more. We also took a boat trip around other islands with one of the local vendors which cost us around £13 each including a tasty homemade lunch.
One of the highlights of my visit to Koh Yao Noi was having a thai-massage in a beach hut as the sun set. I know it’s the norm to close your eyes during massages, but I wanted to saviour every last bit of sunlight as I watched dusk fall on the empty beach. It was real bucket-list stuff. Koh Yao Noi may be off the beaten track for most tourists but it is definitely worth a stop if you’re looking for somewhere a little bit different.
Our time in Thailand seemed to pass so quick and I can’t wait to visit the country again some day to explore more of the beautiful islands- you could spend months hopping amongst them all, each one as stunning as the last. I hadn’t heard anyone mention it before, but the Thai people were so incredibly friendly and welcoming, especially on the smaller islands. They were always there to offer any helpful tips and advice, and greet you with a smile or a wave as you zoomed passed on your scooter or asked them about the local cuisine. If you can visit this gorgeous place then it’s a must to tick off your bucket list. I’m so grateful I managed to experience a small taste of Thailand before COVID brought us all to a halt; Experiencing different cultures and their way of life is such a healthy way of bringing us all together and understanding eachother. I’ll be looking to the future with fingers crossed and my passport at the ready as soon as we are allowed to walk down that aisle again. Until then, I’ll have to practice my beer-pong form in my kitchen instead.
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