Travelling to Thailand

TL;DR

How to reach:

There are a number of carriers that fly to Bangkok from India. Among all, AirAsia is generally the cheapest with super cheap tickets on offer during their promotional sales.

Where we stayed:

Phi Phi – Bay View Resort
Phuket – Manohra Cozy Resort at Kata
Bangkok – Hotel Ibis Riverside

Our Itinerary:

Day 1: Reach Phuket(via Bangkok) by afternoon. Take the afternoon ferry to Phi Phi to reach by late evening.
Day 2: Phi Phi Leh (Maya Bay) day tour.
Day 3: Visit Long beach in Phi Phi. Walk around the town. Hike to the sunset point in the evening.
Day 4: Take the morning ferry to Phuket. Phuket sightseeing(Patong, Karon and Kata Noi beaches, Prompthep Cape View Point).
Day 5: James Bond Island tour.
Day 6: Fly to Bangkok in the morning. Spend the day shopping.
Day 7: Visit Safari world.
Day 8:  Visit Chatuchak market.
Day 9: Bangkok sightseeing(temples). Fly back to Bangalore in the night.

Overall cost of this trip: Rs. 65,000 for 2 people(excluding flights).

Full blog

Thailand tops the charts for the most travelled foreign destinations by Indians. And it’s not hard to imagine why. One can book a round trip flight to Bangkok at as less as 10,000 Rs. (assuming you are flying AirAsia and you book the flights in one of their promotional offers). The trip cost varies largely depending on the no of days you choose, the places you visit and the amount of luxury you wish to experience. It can range from 25,000 Rs. to a few lakhs of rupees per person. The country itself is very traveller friendly, surprisingly so, considering the fact that not many people manage to speak English. Thailand was supposed to be our Honeymoon trip. Unfortunately, we could not travel as planned, as I managed to misplace my passport just before the travel :(. Call me stupid or careless, but that’s who I was back then. I’ll skip the details of the episode for now (interesting story for another blog?). We decided that day, that the next time we travel outside India, Thailand should be our first choice.

That opportunity came almost a year later with my wife having a mid-October shutdown at her workplace. We had sufficient time to make a 9 day trip and based on that, we zeroed in on these 3 places: Phi Phi Island, Phuket & Bangkok. These we felt would give us a good mix of experience ranging from beaches to night life to the city culture. We decided to start our journey from the beautiful beaches of Phi Phi and end with the vibrant city of Bangkok. This would also allow us to shop our hearts out at Bangkok without having to worry about handling the excess baggage through our trip. We did all our bookings (flights + hotels) 3 months in advance. About 45 days before our scheduled departure, we realized that we had messed up our flight bookings. We had booked a Thai Airways return flight to Bangkok and AirAsia return flight between Bangkok and Phuket. For our onward flight, we had a 3 hour transit at Bangkok, which we felt was sufficient to finish up with the visa on arrival formalities. We hadn’t realized that these two flights operate from different airports in Bangkok, which were atleast an hour apart. So we had to reschedule our AirAsia flight to Phuket for a later time. We also realized we could have probably done a multicity with Thai Airways for the same or lesser cost.

After this initial hiccup, the day finally arrived when we boarded the Thai Airways flight to Bangkok to reach at 6 am. On reaching the Suvarnabhumi airport, we finished our visa on arrival formalities in half an hour. It cost us 1000 baht per person. There is also fast track queue for visa for people short on time (costs 200 baht extra). At the arrival hall of the airport, we bought a tourist sim for about 150 baht with 100 baht currency in it. We then boarded the free shuttle to Don Mueng airport (which leaves once every hour) to catch our flight to Phuket. Before boarding the flight, we exchanged some dollars for baht, as the exchange rates were much better at Don Mueng compared to Savarnabhumi.

On arriving at Phuket airport, we took a taxi to the Rassada Pier at a cost of 600 baht. It takes about an hour to the pier. We had pre-booked our ferry tickets to Phi Phi online for a cost of 350 baht per person to depart at 2.30 pm (They charge 600 baht per person at the pier). There is a ferry that departs at 9.30 am as well.

Phi Phi Islands

Phi Phi essentially is a set of islands formed from the limestone formations popping out of the sea. ‘Koh Phi Phi Don’ is the one and only inhabited island in the group and that is where we were headed too. This island is essentially the island superstar of Thailand and relatively unknown to the Indians. The island was completely wiped out during the Tsunami of 2004. As of now, most but not all, has been restored. Most people visit these islands as part of a day trip, either from Phuket or from Krabi. It will be a completely different experience if you can manage to spend some days on the island. It is money and time well spent indeed.

We reached the island at around 4.30 pm, just in time to catch the island’s beautiful white sandy beach in its full glory under the shining sun. We had our booking at Bay View Resort for 3 nights and there were folks from the hotel waiting for us to take us to the hotel. Long tail boats are very famous on these islands and we hopped onto to one of them to reach the hotel, which was 5 min boat ride away. We checked in to the hotel and made our way to our room which was a 5 min walk up the hill. The rest of the day went uneventful.

The following morning, after finishing our breakfast, we decided to book one of those day tours offered by the tour operator at the hotel. There were a few options – most of them involving visit to the famous Maya Bay. We were interested in the Plankton tour at the Maya Bay (more information here), but since it was a low season with the threat of rain and we did not have the minimum no of people required for the trip, it was unavailable for us. We booked a day tour to Maya Bay instead, at the cost of 600 baht per person, which involved visits to Bamboo Island, Monkey Island, Viking caves and finally the Maya Bay with couple of stops for snorkeling in between.

Before starting the tour, make sure to ask your tour operator for vegetarian food if you are particular about it. The tour started at around noon. We were put on one of those long tail boats with 15 other people. We first stopped at a location in the sea closer to our hotel for snorkeling. The gear and life jackets were provided. After spending 15 min there, we made our way to the Bamboo Island. It is one of most beautiful National Park Islands and looks completely different to other islands in the region. It has a white sandy beach with very clear blue shallow water, perfect for relaxing and swimming if one is interested in it. There is an entrance fee of around 100 baht for this island and also a restriction on the amount of time you can spend on it. It is a very small island which you can cover by foot in half an hour and was most certainly in the tsunami hazard zone (boards on the island confirm this). After spending half an hour on it, we came back to our boat and had our lunch.

Bamboo Island
Bamboo Island

Our next stop was the Monkey Beach. The beach is very small with most of the land on this island covered with the limestone formations. As the name suggests, the beach is completely swamped by monkeys which can become quite aggressive if they come across food. It is best viewed from far and we quickly moved on to the Maya Bay.

Monkey beach
Monkey beach

On the way to Maya Bay, your driver will slow down for few seconds to give you enough time to look at the Viking caves. These are the large caves eroded by waves which open out to the water. A shaky-looking bamboo scaffold covers most of it from view. The caves are believed to house a large colony of birds inside.

Viking Caves
Viking Caves
IMG_1989
On the way to Maya Bay

We finally reached our final and the most awaited destination – The Maya Bay. It is one of the 2 bays on the island of Koh Phi Phi Leh and the place became very popular only after the movie The Beach was filmed here. It is a stunningly beautiful bay surrounded by high cliffs on the 3 sides. The rough seas from May to October restricts direct entry into the bay from the boats and hence, we were stopped at the back entrance to the bay.

Viking Caves
Back entrance to Maya Bay
Snorkeling
Snorkeling

The large school of colorful fishes swimming almost within our hands’ reach in the clean waters made for a wonderful snorkeling experience. After spending 15 min snorkeling, we made our way to the bay. To reach the bay, we had to swim a short distance, climb up the rope/wooden ladder and walk a short distance through the forest like area. Sadly, this meant that we had to leave our camera at the boat and we could not take any pics of the bay itself. The spectacle was quite brilliant and it’s a pity we did not have the camera with us. The place could get quite crowded because of the fame it carries. But since it was a low season, it was not too bad for us. After spending half an hour at that place, we headed back to the boat. We had seen all we had to see on that tour and it was time to head back to our hotel. The journey back seemed quite long with the fatigue of a long and tiring day finally setting in.

Sunset at Phi Phi Don
Sunset at Phi Phi Don

Back at the hotel, after freshening up, we headed for our dinner. We were offered a table on the beach very close to the waters, in a candle light setting. The entire experience of the day – snorkeling with the colorful fishes, the pristine waters of Bamboo Island, crazy monkeys at the Monkey Beach, the world famous Maya Bay and finally the candle light dinner at the beach, all made for an excellent day at the Phi Phi.

The next day was spent mostly at leisure. The beach was looking very beautiful under the morning sun and we decided to spend some time taking pics. Because the hotel was located at the end of the beach, the beach was not crowded, offered very good privacy and remained clean.

Tonsai Bay
Tonsai Bay
Phi Phi Don
Phi Phi Don
Long tail boats
Long tail boats

It was past noon when we decided to check out the Phi Phi town, which was a 5 min walk from the hotel. We booked our return ferry to Phuket for the next day from one of the shops in the town at a very good price (around 250 baht per person). We did not find anything from the stores which we could take back home as souvenirs – they were either not good or very expensive. Finding a restaurant in the town which offered vegetarian food can be a struggle. Though, we found one place where we had Yellow and Green Thai curries for lunch.

Phi phi town
Phi phi town

After getting back to the hotel, we treated ourselves to the famous Thai Massage (paid around 400 baht per person). It was around 5 pm when we made our way to the sunset view point. We were told that it’s a 30 min walk from the hotel. After walking for 30 min, we realized that we had covered only half the distance and the climb seemed to be only getting steeper. We were sure to miss the sunset even if we had proceeded on our journey and hence, we headed back in disappointment. Nonetheless, the view of the sunset from our hotel beach was nothing short of stunning.

Sunset at Phi Phi Don
Sunset at Phi Phi Don

There was a special fire show arranged that night for the dinner at the hotel and we enjoyed our dinner on the beach front watching the artists play skillfully with fire. Our 3 nights stay at the Phi Phi was almost up and we slept that night wishing we could spend some more.

Fire show
Fire show

Phuket

We left Phi Phi by the morning ferry and reached Rassada Pier at Phuket at around noon. We then took a shared taxi(150 Baht per person) to our resort, Manohra cozy village, which was located at Kata beach, about an hour away from the pier. After checking in to the hotel, we rented a scooter (250 baht per day) and made our way to a local Indian restaurant nearby. After lunch, we headed to the Patong beach which was 15 km away. The ride to Patong is amazing with the road taking you along the coastline with Karon beach visible on the way. Since the Patong beach was way too crowded, we made a quick exit from the beach to check out the town. My wife checked out a few shops for bags and clothes but did not find anything interesting. A fish spa shop closeby arouse our curiosity and we took the spa at the cost of 100 baht per person for 15 min. It was quite a refreshing experience and we could not stop laughing due to the fishes continuously tickling our feet. The sun was starting to set and we started our journey to the Cape Prompthep, the southern most point of Phuket. It is one of the best places to catch the sunset in Phuket. It is about 25 km from Patong and takes 45 min on the scooter. Half way through our journey, we realized that we might not make it to the place in time for the sunset. So we took a little detour and stopped at the Kata Noi beach instead. The beach was pretty good and less crowded. We spent a good 90 mins at the beach relaxing and trying to capture the awesome sunset in the camera. We then headed back to our hotel making a stop at the same Indian restaurant for dinner.

Sunset at Kata Noi beach
Sunset at Kata Noi beach
Kata Noi beach
Kata Noi beach

The following day, we woke up early to get ready to embark on our day tour to the Phang-Nga bay. We had booked this tour the previous day through the hotel itself (cost us 1100 Baht per person for a tour on a big boat). We were picked up at about 7 30 in the morning from our hotel and dropped off at the Ao Po Pier. About an hour later, we were on board and we left for our first destination – the Panak Island.

Panak has wonderful scenery around the island with the cliffs and unique beautiful limestone formations. We explored the island by canoeing through the mangrove forest and the ‘hongs’ (meaning sea cave). We also spotted some bats inside these caves. After about half an hour of canoeing, we made our way back to the boat and proceeded towards the next island, the Hong Island. We canoed past the island’s unclimbable cliffs, ducking through a low-hanging arch and nosed our way into the lagoon. We got out, took some pictures and finally made our way back to the boat. We were then served lunch on the boat and we moved on towards the James Bond Island.

Cave at Panak Island
Cave at Panak Island
Inside the cave
Inside the cave
Bats inside the cave
Bats inside the cave
On the way to Hong Island
On the way to Hong Island
Cave entrance to Hong
Cave entrance to Hong
Hong Island
Hong Island

We reached the James Bond Island in about 45 min. Formerly known as Khao Phing Kan, meaning “hills leaning against each other”, this island became famous after appearing in the James Bond movie “The Man with the Golden Gun” and since then, has been widely referred as the James Bond Island. The main attraction of this island is the standing rock just offshore, which itself is sometimes referred as James Bond Island, but is actually called Koh Tapu, meaning nail island. The scene in the James Bond movie has been shot with this rock in the background. You can’t see it from where you land – have to climb up and down some stone steps to get views of Phuket’s (perhaps Thailand’s) most famous rock. When you look out over the water to “the rock”, it’s beautiful. Somehow, you can ignore the fact that you are sharing the island with several hundred other people with everybody trying to get a snap with this famous rock. We managed to get some snaps of our own and moved on.

James Bond Island
James Bond Island

We decided to check out the little shops on the island for some souvenirs. You need to haggle quite a lot to get the best prices. We then got back into the boat and started our journey back to Phuket. On the way back, we had a brief stop at Naka Island for a swim. We reached Phuket by late evening and then spent the rest of the day at leisure. We hit the bed early as we had an early morning flight to Bangkok.

Bangkok

On reaching Don Mueng airport, we took a taxi to the Ibis Bangkok Riverside (where we had our booking) located in Khlong San, right beside the Chao Phraya river. It took about an hour to reach and cost us around 500 Baht including the tolls on the expressway. We checked into the hotel, had breakfast and got some sleep. The brief rest gave us the much needed energy to get out and explore the city. My wife was also eagerly looking forward to her shopping. We took a metered taxi (you can just flag one down on the road) to the MBK shopping mall. The food court here offers multinational cuisines and we helped ourselves to an Indian lunch, before engrossing ourselves in Bangkok shopping. Believe me, shopping here can be quite an experience with most shops swamped by Indian tourists in search of cheap merchandise. Needless to say, you really need to bargain at most shops with prices of goods marked up by atleast 50-60% above the fair price. Also, there are plenty of shops selling the same stuff, so don’t be in a hurry to buy at the first shop before checking out at different shops. We headed back to the hotel by late evening and spent some time at the pool by the riverside admiring the Chao Phraya river and the Bangkok city in the backdrop. We booked a tour to the Safari World with the Siam tours for the following day (for 1100 Baht), had our dinner at the hotel and then hit the bed.

Bangkok at night
Bangkok at night

The following day, we were picked up at our hotel to proceed to the Safari World. It is Thailand’s largest open zoo and leisure park and is about 40 km from the city center. This huge park has two areas: a drive through safari park and a marine park which also hosts a number of shows. On reaching the place, we got our tickets and schedule which started with the shows at the Marine Park. The various shows are scheduled one after the other, and so you need to be on your toes, running around from one stage to another if you don’t plan to miss any. The main attractions are the Orang Utan boxing show, Dolphin show, Sea-Lion show and the Elephant show. In addition to these shows, the spy war show, cowboy show and the bird show are also pretty good. Some of these are scheduled at the same time and you will have to choose one over the other. There is also a giraffe feeding terrace where you can feed the giraffes a basket of banana for 50 Baht. We then had an Indian buffet lunch which was part of our package.

Orang-utan Boxing show
Orang-utan Boxing show
Sea-Lion show
Sea-Lion show
Dolphin show
Dolphin show
Dolphin show
Dolphin show
Elephant show
Elephant show
Elephant painting
Elephant painting

By around 3 pm, we were done with the shows and we then headed to the Safari Park. The 8 km safari drive through offers a chance to view wild animals from Africa and Asia from a close distance. Here you can view animals like lions, tigers, rhinoceros, deer, bear, zebra, giraffe and many kinds of tropical birds out in the open. The drive back to our hotel was quite frustrating with the Bangkok traffic taking its toll on us. We took 3 hours to get back and for a moment, Bangalore traffic felt much better! It was a long and tiring day and we settled for a quick dinner before heading to sleep.

The next day, we decided to check out Bangkok’s famous Chatuchak weekend market. It is Thailand’s largest market and is open only on Saturdays and Sundays. We took the hotel shuttle to the nearest sky train (BTS) station and took a train to Mo Chit station. It was about 35 Baht per person and took us about 20 min. From the station, it was a 10 min walk to the market. As we entered the market, we were kind of dumbstruck by the sheer number of shops and the maze like structure of the market. We decided to start from the entry #1 and go lane by lane.

Now, about the market itself, it is one of the largest in the world and contains close to 10,000 booths selling stuff from every part of Thailand at bargain prices. You can practically find everything under the sun from fabrics to furniture to food to ceramics to flowers to drinks to toys to books to clothes to bags to antiques to jewelry to live animals to whatever you can imagine to use in your routine life. We spent 4-5 hours looking and bargaining for stuff in various shops. You need to bargain here too! We ended up buying some clothes and jewelry. After a very tiring half of the day, we left the market and took the skytrain to MBK shopping mall. We had a late lunch at the Indian restaurant in the food court. We decided to buy some souvenirs for our family and satisfy my wife’s cravings for shopping one last time. All done, we took a taxi to the hotel with handful of bags.

We relaxed for a while in our room and then decided to check out a different Indian restaurant for dinner. The restaurant ‘Little India’ was on the other side of the Chao Phraya river. We walked to the Saphan Taksin Pier and took the cross river ferry to Sathorn pier to cross to the other side (for just 3.5 Baht per person!). We walked to the restaurant, had dinner and came back to the hotel by the same ferry. We then hit the sack for our last night in Bangkok and Thailand.

The following day, we checked out from the hotel, left our bags at the luggage room in the hotel and went out to spend our last day in Bangkok. We decided to visit the Grand Palace which is also home to Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha). The palace essentially is a complex of buildings situated on the banks of Chao Phraya river. Taking the ferry was the fastest and the most economical option to reach the palace from our hotel and that is what we did. We took the Cross river ferry to Sathorn pier and from there, took the Chao Phraya express ferry (Orange flag) to reach Tha Chang pier (N9). It cost us 15 Baht per person and took about 20 min. We then walked for 5-10 min to reach the palace.

They say your tour to Bangkok would not be complete without visiting this magnificent architecture called the Grand Palace. The structure truly is a piece of art, undoubtedly the city’s most famous landmark and a must see place. This palace was used as a royal residence for a long period of time but now hosts only government offices. The entrance fee is 500 Baht per person. A strict dress code applies – Men must wear long pants and shirts with sleeves. If you’re wearing sandals or flip-flops you must wear socks. Women must be similarly modestly dressed. No see-through clothes, bare shoulders, etc. If you show up at the front gate improperly dressed, there is a booth near the entrance that can provide clothes to cover you up properly (a deposit is required).

Before entering the palace when we bought the tickets, we were thinking that the entry price is too steep. But by the time we came out after spending 2 hours inside, that thought had completely vanished. The whirlpool of colors from the greenness of the grass in the outer court to the glorious gold everywhere on the statues and the buildings, the endless maze of finely constructed buildings, the lovely paintings on Thai mythology, and the meticulously carved Buddha statue inside the Wat Phra Kaew – all made for an overwhelming experience.

View of Wat Arun from the ferry
View of Wat Arun from the ferry
First glimpse of Grand Palace
View of Wat Pho
Grand Palace
Grand Palace
Grand Palace
Grand Palace
Grand Palace
Grand Palace

After finishing lunch at a restaurant nearby, we headed back to our hotel where we spent some time leisurely near the pool (since there was still a lot of time left for our flight). It was finally time for us to head back to India. On our way to the airport, we could not get rid of the thought that our stay at Bangkok, though 4 days, was probably not enough. There were still a lot of things left pending from our checklist on Bangkok – Chao Phraya dinner cruise, visit to the other temples (Wat Arun, Wat Pho etc), Kanchanburi, Night markets. Before we boarded the flight back, we swore to come back again to finish the unfinished!!

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