After our adventures in Vietnam, our goal was to join Thailand to respect a tradition, celebrate New Year's Eve with our Indian friends: Rajat and Payal! This is 3 years that we do it together and it is not the fact of having gone around the world that will change this habit! We had to meet at Koh Samui on December 23. So we left Hoh Chi Minh City on December 18 by plane to Phuket with VietAirJet. (and above all we do not forget to make the provisions of champagne for Christmas and New Year's Day at the duty free of the airport!).
So we had 5 days before going to Lamai on the island of Koh Samui. We miss Australian's beautiful beaches so we wanted to take advantage of the famous beaches of South Thailand!
Island Hopping in South Thailand
We arrive in Phuket and do not plan to stay, it is not that the excitement of Patong and Karon Beach does not attract us, but we decided to take the time to rest, so we chose Koh Lanta, a very nice island, calm and family friendly! We arrive there by ferry across the Andaman Sea while passing through famous places like Koh Phi Phi, Railay Beach, Ao Nang, it feels good holidays!
A small bungalow at 50 meters from the beach is waiting for us when we arrive, we stayed on the biggest beach of the island and we are gone for 4 days of lazyness!
The beach is so big that even in high season, it seems empty! Perfect for 4 days to do nothing! We rented a scooter a day to go around the island, but there is not much to see or do on this island which is under development (constructions everywhere!).
Our purpose in life, do not miss the sunset! The island is ideally oriented so that the sun goes down on the water! Beautiful !
Koh Samui / Koh Phan Gan / Koh Tao
2 buses and a ferry later, we arrive on Koh Samui! It's time to meet our friends! Houra, after six months, we have a lot to talk and 13 days in these beautiful islands will allow us to catch up! We will not lie to you, we did a lot of beach, we drank a lot of beer, we played a lot of playing cards games, and we had a lot of fun, but that was the goal!
We went to visit beautiful waterfalls and the Giant Buddha of Koh Samui, snorkeled on Tanote Bay beach in Koh Tao, visited Koh Nang Yuan from Koh Tao (quite disappointing and crowded), so had some activities.
Once again, it's all about Christmas, foie gras, salmon and champagne! As if we were at home! What a joy to spend New Year's Eve in the sun with friends!
The day before we separate from our friends, we received an email announcing that our 2 ferries are canceled. Rajat and Payal returning to Koh Samui to take a flight to Bangkok and then India, and us, continuing our journey to reach the north of the country. We quickly learn that the cyclone Pabuk arrives on Koh Tao! Oh oh my god!
We learn in this panic that the last ferries will leave Koh Tao the next morning despite cancellations made by all ferry companies.
In a chaos mainly due to the will of exodus from the tourists in order not to remain stuck on the islands several days, but also to a lack of organization of locals and as well as their will of making more money, we arrived somehow to leave the island by paying twice the initial price all this without being able to say goodbye to our friends, pressed by the agents of the ferry company to get on board the boat as quickly as possible.
Finally the ferry left after an hour waiting at the dock, a boat of 400 seats with probably 700 people aboard, huge waves of 4-5 meters on the sea, people who throwing up everywhere.
We succeed to join Chumphon and then Bangkok in the evening. This trip was one of the most epic of our world tour. Our friends have also managed to reach Koh Samui, and will take their plane as planned. In the end, the storm is degraded into a tropical storm and changed it's trajectory to mainly hit the province of Nakhon if Thammarat further south.
After all these emotions, and a night of transit in Bangkok, where we took the opportunity to eat some street food on Khao San Road, we went back to our rhythm of long-term travel. The next day we leave for Chiang Mai early morning by plane (yes sometimes it's cheaper than the bus!). We arrive at noon in the city and we fall quickly under the spell, the fortifications, temples on every street corner, an atmosphere of serenity and tranquility emerges from the city center.
We visited all the must do of the city: Wat Chedi Luang Wat Chiang Man Wat Phra Singh and also the statue of the 3 Kings, as well as the night bazaar with its Muslim influence without forgetting to see a Thai boxing match!
The next morning we take a songtheaw towards the temple Doi Suthep which is 15 kilometers from the city. From here we have the choice between climbing the 309 steps that lead to the temple or take a small train to climb. The site of Doi Suthep is a very big place of pilgrimage for Buddhists because it contains a sacred relic: a bone part of Buddha's shoulder. The visit is nice but we are not alone, it's busy time!
Our version of the Mae Hong Son Loop
The Mae Hong Son Loop is a loop to be made by scooter (or motorcycle, even by car for the less adventurous). We had heard about it from a former colleague who made it during her world tour. This road is very winding and has more than 1800 turns, but the quality of the asphalt is very good!
It is very easy to rent a scooter in Chiang Mai, just leave your passport as a deposit and pay 1300 bath for weekly rental. After you must be careful not to drive on the "ring" of Chiang Mai, especially without a valid international license for big moterbike, police are often checking that during the day.
Now on the way for the loop !!!!
The remains of the storm Pabuk arrived on the north of Thailand and the weather announces bad weather for the next days. We still manage to avoid the rain to go to Pai, but we will have to stay 2 nights (we don't want to spend 3 hours on a scooter under the rain). On the Pai road, tourists we met in Chiang Mai told us about Wat Pa Dara Phirom at Mae Rim, a temple that is worth it despite successive visits to temples in the last days.
In Pai, we were able to visit (between 2 showers) the Giant Buddha and the Bamboo Bridge, both have to be done in any visit to Paï ! We also enjoyed the baba cool atmosphere prevailing in the city center, fun enough to see. After the rain passed, we were able to make it to Mae Hong Son, I think this part is the "most" scenic of the loop, lush landscapes, valleys, mountains, plains, this stretch of road is very pleasant. We also made the detour to see the waterfall Phasua. Very nice and free because we arrived after 16h and nobody was there to sell tickets! Also we stopped at Tham Lod Cave for a visit with a lantern of this cave, a fun experience. In the evening, a small lakeside dinner in front of the 2 main temples of Mae Hong Son was a good end of a long day.
The next day, we stop at the museum of war and friendship between Thailand and Japan in Khun Yuam very nice visit and really informative. In the evening we slept at 74km away from there at the Hot Coffee Guest House and Resort in Mae Chaem. This is where our version differs from most people that continues straight to Mae Sarieng! We will be driving on the road 126 heading east, we find ourselves on roads like in Laos, in very very bad conditions and going up and down, driving through 4 or 5 passes on 75 km! We crossed small villages that are not even on the maps or google map, lot of small Hmong villages! It was very nice but difficult, we took 3h30 to do these 75km!
The last day we were so happy to find the good roads, and especially to climb on the roof of Thailand at 2655m: Doi Ithenon! The scooter was tired up there, but it was worth it to get a little cold after these last 3 months in tropical Asia!
We were very happy to return to Chiang Mai after a little more than 600 km! But we do not regret having made it, we are rather so happy and proud!
The Elephant Sanctuary
Back in Chiang Mai we took rest for one night and the next day we have booked a day trip to an elephant sanctuary in Chiang Mai. We chose this program, because you must know that all over Asia, even today, some of these animals are used in the logging industry, for tourist elephant ridding, or are being use in circus or as well as to fulfill the Asian needs of ivory. The sanctuary we visited is rather expensive, but here animals are well treated, not chained at night, they have plenty of food, and they have large areas of freedom and there is always a caretaker 24h / 24 . This kind of sanctuary is very rare in Southeast Asia and this also explains why it is expensive. Unfortunately these animals have grown in captivity, they will never (and even their babies) find the wild life again, which is sad. You should know that there are less than 1500 wild elephants in Thailand nowadays.
The day brought us more than we had hoped. We could feed, touch, play with these giants of several tons. It was just awesome. Here is a small video:
In Chiang Rai, we did not do much. Apart from visiting the White Temple at the entrance of the city, which is certainly beautiful, but very very busy. We took the time to write the blog, do the laundry, a little bit of shopping, and prepare our visit to Laos,...
Summary of Thaïland
- The beaches are very beautiful and pleasant
- The scooter Loop in the North! Amazing !
- Easy contact with locals who speak good English!
- It is very very touristy, and difficult to find outside of the beaten tracks places, on the other hand it's still so different than the western world
- High prices in the Southern Islands, a big difference with North Thaïland
– Beers : Chang, Tiger, Leo, and other local beers, nothing really fancy
What budget? Well it was Christmas and New Year's Eve with friends, so we agreed some excesses! An initial budget was 1850 EUR for 25 days, we spent 31 days there and spent 2560 EUR! Thailand is definitely the most expensive country when traveling in South East Asia, but we do not regret any extras like the Elephant Sanctuary (140 EUR for 2), the bungalow on Koh Lanta for 4 nights at 140 EUR , and the many Chang and Tiger we drank! We will do better in Laos, Cambodia, ...