Posted by: Anna | July 5, 2011

Thailand Wrap-Up

Thailand was probably, between us, the country we most expected to love. Although we enjoyed Thailand, overall, I was disappointed. That has a lot more to do with the decisions we made in how we spent our time in Thailand than anything to do with Thailand itself. I would still recommend Thailand highly to anyone looking to take a vacation; few other places can cram as many options to suit every taste into one country. Few other countries offer a taste of the exotic with such easy to use, pleasant infrastructure. Beaches – check. History – check. Architecture – check. Hiking and outdoor stuff – check. Exotic, undeveloped areas – check. Totally western options – got it. Something for everyone.

Thailand has an amazing array of options for the tourist. We stuck to the well-traveled, well-hyped path. Our mistake was in not knowing our own desires well enough to develop a travel plan to fit them. Our second mistake was that we both got hurt in Thailand (Tommy – back, Anna – sprained ankle). We would have enjoyed it more had we deviated from the “Banana Trail” (as the tourist path in Southeast Asia is often called) and seen more of Thailand beyond the packaged sections for tourists. I left without feeling I had really known Thailand at all, just browsed the tourism brochure.

We started our Thai jouney in Chiang Mai, which is still one of my favorite spots on our entire trip. I love a small place with charm, and Chiang Mai certainly delivers. I could have shopped, eaten, and been massaged at the weekend walking street for twelve hours with joy. The amazing temple tour we did really opened my eyes to appreciating Buddhist architecture and religious practice on a much more comprehensive level. It was all coming up roses, as they say.

Chiang Mai is where I indulged in a full day spa experience - four hours of amazing pampering. This is me getting started on my hour of foot reflexology. My mom asked me how I could get my feet rubbed for an hour (what do they do?). All I can say is: it's amaing.

We took the train to get to Bangkok. It was fabulous – clean, cold AC, comfy – just great all around. One of the nicest trains I’ve ever taken. I am not a traveler who thinks crappy travel experiences are something worth seeking out, and I’m excited when a reasonably priced option turns out to be a very pleasant one.

Bangkok was okay. Somehow, I didn’t get the charm and allure, and was totally turned off by the ever-present prostitutes and hawkers offering me ping-pong shows. It’s sad and gross. Not being a huge partier, the crazy nightlife that many travelers love about Bangkok was lost on me, not to mention that at night is when the prostitutes and ping-pong hawkers really come into their own. On the plus side, the temples of Bangkok stunned both us with their grandeur and size, and Tommy devoured a pint of Blizzard almost every day. Strangely, Bangkok ranks as #1 on mine and Tommy’s list for per-day consumption of Blizzards.

This is a cool statue at Wat Phra Keuw in Bangkok, where the famous Emerald (actually jade) Buddha resides. A stunning place.

Our next stop was Kho Tao, another major stop on the tourist trail. Koh Tao certifies more open water students for diving than anywhere else in the world (so we were told). There are zillions of Europeans, mainly Brits, doing their open water diving courses and eating at all the many, many restaurants for Westerners and partying all night at the many, many bars for Westerners. It’s like a strange other world designed entirely for tourists, completely isolated from local people (except for those working to serve you in restaurants, etc). It felt contrived. That said, the diving was amazing. We also made the mistake of not finding the best accommodation option, which sometimes can make or break a place like Koh Tao. Overpriced and staffed by surly employees (did I somehow return to Africa?), the resort failed to enhance Koh Tao. We never took a single photo in Koh Tao.

Plus, Koh Tao is where I sprained my ankle. There is nothing to sour a journey like being confined to a hotel room because it hurts to walk at all, eating take out and watching Oprah re-runs (the only thing on the only English language tv station). That left Tommy to dive on his own and without a partner to explore the city with – perhaps we would have found some amazing spots. We only had one day before I was hurt, so we never did see all that much. Dear Koh Tao: I will reserve complete judgment on you, but know this — I am ready to escape the twenty year old partiers.

If I were starting this section of our trip over, I would do it differently. However, this isn’t golf, and I can’t have a mulligan. Instead, I will put Thailand on my list of places to return to because I saw it the wrong way the first time around. It’s like this: have you ever wanted to impress someone, and so you planned a day or a date that you thought would knock their socks off? Then you did it, and it bombed. And you realize, it’s not them – you mucked the plan. That’s Thailand for us.

That said, Thailand has so many amazing things. Some of the very nicest people we’ve met on our whole trip were in Thailand; even the guy at the 7-11 in Bangkok chatted with us as if we are in some some small town. Thailand has amazing variety, offering something to almost everyone. The infrastructure fits the bill for most Westerners. I hate writing this post; I so prefer to be able to delight in reflecting on a country or (occasionally – Mozambique and Cambodia, this is you) rant about the utter failures. This time, Thailand did her best. I didn’t.

Haiku for Thailand

Triggerfish attacks,

Young Brits drinking, sprained ankle,

Thailand defeats us.

— Tommy


I hobbled away

From the land of smiles sadly

Am I jaded now?

— Anna


  1. If your planning was off, you will get it right next time. If it wasn’t, well then your review was fair at least. Going to a party town (or country) isn’t that fun if you are not a partier. Nothing can really make it fun except to avoid the drunks and prostitutes. Cannot say that I would find away to rise above those things. Maybe if you have to sprain your ankle, it sounds like not a terrible choice.

    By the way, so glad it is not a break. I am glad you checked though. A sprain is bad enough!!

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