I arrived in Thailand at the start of August for a 1 month holiday that was suppose to be out of this World. Unfortunately that's not quite how things have turned out. Some of the problems are probably my fault, but frankly I don't see what I could have done different at the time of planning... It seemed like a great plan and everyone who I told said it was great too (this forum included).
So the plan was... Arrive in Bangkok, spend 3 nights. Travel down to Samui and spend 9 nights. Then to Phangan spending 5 nights, then over to Krabi (Lanta) spending 6 nights (that's where I am now) and finally up to Chiang Mai for 5 nights (2 in Pai) and then 2 nights in Bangkok on exiting the country. In my opinion this was a pretty balanced trip that would enable us to see a good variety of Thailand.
First off let me start by saying I have nothing against Thailand or the Thai people. In fact one of the things that has blown me away has been the absolutely awesome level of service at the resorts we've stayed at. No attitudes, very polite, very helpful. The point of this thread is simply 2 reasons... Firstly I want to see if I'm missing something and secondly I want to inform other people who may be thinking of doing a similar journey of the negative sides involved. If someone had told me what I have learned over the last few weeks I probably never would have come, simple as that.
Okay so we arrived in Bangkok staying at Lebua at State Tower. As far as I know it's one of the most famous hotels in Bangkok, partly due to the Hangover II movie. For a 5 star the rooms are pretty sucky. The furniture is dull and the views are of the wrong side of the city... Also the hotel itself is a little out of it location wise. Don't even bother going to the Sky Bar unless you enjoy barely being able to move due to so many people. Anyway I don't want to ramble too much about the hotel... Bangkok itself... It's polluted, over crowded and in a large part ugly. Probably the highlight of Bangkok for me was Siam Paragon and the VIP cinema (how silly is that). This cinema is one of the best I've ever been too. I also enjoyed eating dinner at the Mandarin Oriental by the river... I'd highly recommend that. As for other activities in Bangkok... I went to the shooting range and blew $300 in about 15 minutes on pretty much nothing, such a waste of money. Also went to Lumpini Park which was full of protestors screaming down microphones and not much else. Add to the fact the sweltering heat makes going to a park a bit of a drag. Maybe Bangkok is more fun if you're single and can hang out with a load of lady boys... Who knows...
That was Bangkok. Bear in mind it has taken about 11 hours of pure flight time alone to get to Thailand at this point... Another hour to and from the airport to the hotel, now we have a 1 hour flight down to Samui which isn't so bad. However one thing I must stress to people is the amount moving around takes it out of you. Getting to and from airports, flying, going through security, getting to and from hotels, moving your bags about, packing and unpacking, it all adds up and the more places you visit the more messing around you have to do. A 1 hour flight to Samui isn't a 1 hour flight... It's more like 3 or 4 hours when you've added in all the transfers and check-ins. Just wanted to point that out.
We arrived in Samui and first impressions were very good. I loved the airport. Our first hotel that we stayed in The Briza Beach Resort was overall very nice. The villa was massive for the price and it was right on the beach. Great restaurant too (loved the red duck curry). Everyone seems to give Samui a bad rap but I actually liked it there more than anywhere I've been so far in Thailand. The Tesco in Chaweng is massive and has everything you need, including bowling for a bit of fun. The beaches aren't too crowded (this time of year anyway) and there are some awesome restaurants on the island. My favorite was Coconut Willy's who do insanely tasty steak sandwiches and pizzas. One thing I didn't like about Samui is how touristy they made the elephant reserve. It was crap and you could tell the people there only run it for profit. The aquarium on the other hand was a solid experience and one I'd recommend. Make sure you rent a car or scooter to get there though.
Another thing I should point out at this stage is Thailand is not cheap. I don't care what anyone says it simply is not. You cannot have a meal at any half decent restaurant on Samui for 2 without spending 1,000+ Baht at least. If you take a taxi on Samui (any taxi) they will rip you off. They will charge you 500 Baht to go pretty any where and simply aren't interested in negotiating. Things like the Muay Thai stadium are also expensive... 1,000 Baht each for the most basic seats. So yeah it's not a cheap place. No where I've been in Thailand is cheap.
The second hotel we stayed in Samui was more expensive and had a much smaller room. Chaweng Regent was the name. I'd not recommend staying at this resort (even thought it has good reviews on booking.com). It has nice gardens and that's it. They even want to charge you for Wi-Fi, which at a $300 a night hotel is outrageous.
After 9 nights we left Samui and headed to Phangan. For me this is where the holiday started to go to crap. Up until now it had been a pretty decent holiday... The ferry to Phangan takes about 1 hour by the time you've boarded and got off etc. Our resort on Phangan was meant to be one of the best (Panviman) and located on the best beach in Phangan (Thong Nai Pan Noi). Let me start by saying the main road in Phangan is dreadful. Without a doubt the worst road I've ever traveled on. How people don't die on that thing daily is beyond me. It's essentially a dirt track with massive slopes, holes and cliff drops either side for about 40 minutes straight. Arriving in Phangan and getting driven to the hotel down this road was less than a pleasant experience.
Once you arrive in that part of the island you're essentially stuck there. Unless of course you want to travel down death road (I did this a few times on a scooter, but for a family it would be next to impossible). I will say there is a lovely little village in that part of the island that has a French colonial style (maybe that's why the resorts are full of French people?).
The restaurants on Phangan suck, so other than laying on the beach I'm not sure what there is to do. In fact there's nothing really to do on Phangan, it's essentially a crappy version of Samui with a couple of slightly nicer beaches and a Full Moon Party which I've heard has become a sausage fest full of idiots. I did try my best to explore and discover Phangan, but after the 5 days there I just couldn't wait to leave. It was a massive relief to get off that island.
Now started another journey from hell, which was traveling from Phangan to Krabi, or rather Ko Lanta. It's a 2 hour ferry from Phangan to Donsak and then (if you're lucky) a 5 hour drive from Donsak to Lanta. This alone is probably more traveling than most families do to get to their holiday destination. We actually hired a private transfer from the pier to Lanta (5,000 Baht down the toilet), so if this was bad I can't imagine how it must be on a bus full of sweaty people.
We're here now in Ko Lanta, we arrived at 7PM yesterday having left our hotel in Phangan at 10AM. The hotel we're at is called Pimalai and is meant to be the best on the island. It's a nice hotel in nice grounds, but you're isolated and literally perched on a cliff at the edge of a jungle. That's cool and all, but you're pretty much stuck in the resort for however long you come here. Why are you stuck? Well BECAUSE THERE'S NOTHING TO DO ON KO LANTA. I've literally driven around the entire island today in a rental car and there's nothing. The beaches that I've seen have massive waves and are full of rocks. The restaurants seem to be run by crazy people who have lost the plot and that's about it. There's 1 main road full of crappy buildings and huts and not much else. I cannot for the life of me understand why anyone would rave about Ko Lanta. Want to leave Lanta and go up to Krabi or Phuket? Good luck! Depending on where you're situated on the island it's a 1 hour drive to get to the North where you'll need to take 2 ferries to get to the mainland. I'm not sure how long the drive is to Krabi or Phuket from there but I imagine it's a long bloody way.
The plan is in a day or so we're taking a ferry to Phi Phi and staying the night there. At this point though I'm not really sure what to expect or how to enjoy anything. The trip so far has been so full of traveling to get to mediocre places that I've sorta given up. I only hope that Chiang Mai is better and we can spend a good 5 days there enjoying Northern Thailand. Mind you getting there will be another 4 hour flight plus hotel transfers.
Here's what I've learnt so far... Stay away from Phangan and Ko Lanta. In fact if you're a couple traveling stay away from Bangkok too. Fly in through Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur) and then go direct to Samui... It's a short flight. Then maybe go up to Chiang Mai (although I have no idea what it's like there yet). If you're single then Bangkok is probably a lot more fun, so it might be worth going through there to Samui.
I actually spent a decent amount of time planning this trip. I asked for advice on 3 forums and kept an open mind to everything. I wanted to see as much as Thailand as possible. This was a big mistake. In hindsight I should have gone to Bangkok, Samui and Chiang Mai and that was it. Then maybe seen another part of Asia, perhaps Japan. Funnily enough this was the exact thing my GF told me to do, so I'm a fool for not listening. I can only advise others to keep your trip as simple as possible... See 2 or 3 main locations and make sure you keep your transfer as fast and easy as you can.
In conclusion if I could go back a month and not come to Thailand I probably would. This will be a $20,000 trip at the end of things and although I have a couple of nice memories, it's nothing that much. I've vacationed in Europe for far FAR less and probably had just as many pleasant experiences.
That's about it! Thanks for reading