Featured image by Olivia Brady
The global development of digital technology and social media, and our subsequent increasing connectedness has definite and undeniable pros and cons. Obviously in many ways development and progress can only really be a good thing, with human beings always striving to improve things and move forward. Indeed, the rise in the use of social media and digital technology globally has had countless positive impacts and undoubtedly saved hundreds of lives. However, has our constant need and ability to know every answer, as and when we want it, made us devoid of creative curiosity? And do we really need instantaneous updates on each other’s lives, or rather the perfected version of each other’s lives, designed and filtered in order to impress or elicit envy? This is an extremely interesting contemporary discussion and it is an issue that has two starkly contrasting sides to its face.
It is a branch from this tree of thought that almost resulted in me entirely missing Thailand off of the destinations list for my travels; simply because I genuinely felt like I’d already been there due to the endless photos on my various newsfeeds from a multitude of gap years, holidays and post-uni explorations (I realise the irony of this given the fact that I am now using digital technology to document my trip but I am trying to give an accurate, un-filtered account). However, to say I am glad that the allure of the beach had become far too appealing by the end of our somewhat overcast roam around Cambodia, would be an understatement. To be fair, we spent the majority of our time on islands, but our 2 week experience of Thailand was nothing short of lovely.
After a particularly arduous crossing of the boarder between Cambodia and Thailand we finally made it. First stop: Bangkok. And doesn’t everyone seem to have a slightly strange Bangkok story? Ours comes in the form of a couple from the Netherlands who we originally thought were just being friendly but turns out they were interested in far more than just being our friends. A day of exploring followed by the busy hustle and bustle of the night markets, the delicious street food and an evening spent drinking bottles of Chang in the lively bars with a funny group (the comedy significantly amplified by our new Netherlands pals); our experience of Bangkok was a good one but I am glad we didn’t stay there longer than a couple of days before heading to Koh Phangan. Although we almost didn’t make it due to an unfortunate incident involving some lost tickets – no idea who’s fault that was.
Still, at least our journey was quick and seamless… After finding the lost tickets, we left Bangkok on a minibus at 5.30pm and were dropped to a ‘sleeper’ bus, which didn’t have anything close to the sleeper seats we fondly remember from Vietnam (cry). Three buses, two booky restaurants and a ferry later, we finally made it to our hostel. Twenty-two hours later. Everything seemed a bit dire until we tried a local Panang curry for dinner and suddenly everything was alright in the world again.
The following day we hire a scooter and set off for Leela Beach on the other side of the island, which has got to be the most beautiful beach I have seen so far on this trip. The only thing I would say is that if you are going to hire scooters on Koh Phangan then try and get one that looks fairly powerful, or else you may not make it to your desired destination. Our poor little scooter was screaming at us as we spluttered and chugged over the extraordinarily steep roads which snake their way through the trees in the middle of the island. Later that day is the Jungle Party, which is the less famous, much more expensive, but apparently much better party that falls on the night before the Full Moon (I say apparently because I still do not know). The night is great; we bounce along the winding roads, almost flying off the back of the vans we have piled onto, as we weave our way deep into the jungle and eventually stop in a clearing. We step through the makeshift barriers into what is similar to a mini festival amongst the trees with performers, fire shows and all sorts going on whichever way you turn. We roll back into our hostel shortly before the sun comes up after a very successful evening, which is followed by one of the least successful days of my entire life. Note to self: never, ever, drink cheap vodka from Thailand ever, ever again. Lying in a ball on my bed, questioning life and very unable to move, I am quite certain that what we drank was not actually vodka. After the most tragic 48 hours, we eventually start to feel like real human beings again, having not seen the outside of our dorm room for far too long and entirely missed the Full Moon party (whoops). Next, we drag our tragic selves to Koh Toa and a group of us pile onto the back of another truck, half of us buried underneath a pile of backpacks and the other half hanging off the back, until we pull up at Sairee beach and find some cute little beach bungalows to stay in. We spend the afternoon lying on the idyllic beach and lounging in the shallows of the crystal sea – it really is a tough life. Koh Toa is famous for its scuba diving and snorkelling, so the following day we set off on a boat trip to hang out with some fish. Sitting on the front of the wooden boat which skims across the surface of the water; with the breeze tickling our cheeks before combing through our hair, and the sun hugging us as its rays warm our skin; I don’t have a care in the world. We jump off the side of the boat and into the water which winks back up at us as we look down through the clear blue, before sliding under the surface and discovering we are in the middle of a moving neon rainbow of fins and coral.
Later on the boat pulls up at a small peer and we step off onto the soft white sands of Nang Yuan beach. We climb up one of the mountainous islands until we reach a break in the trees and stand on a rock, looking back across at the thin strip of pearly sand which is home to three beaches, welcomes three seas onto its shores and joins three islands together. Thailand really is stunningly beautiful. To round off this near-perfect day we spend the evening eating a delicious bbq on the beach and chatting with friends. The next morning we get a glorious oil Thai massage on the beach front and then we are back on that idyllic beach; looking up through the branches of the palm trees at the sky above us and listening to a chorus of birds singing along to sound of the tide rolling in and out of the beach. Whilst travelling, it is very easy to get caught up in always looking to what comes next rather than focusing on what is happening now; forever planning your next move and getting excited for what is to come. To be honest this is not just true for backpacking, we can all fall into this habit in daily life as well, and I think it is important to make the time to pause and appreciate the right here and now. Later we continue our relaxing day with a sunset yoga class held in a wooden hut. We watch the light fade through the gaps between the struts of wood whilst incense fills the room and we move slowly from pose to pose.
The ferry journey from Koh Toa back to Surat Thani is, to put it lightly, five long hours of hell as our small boat flies around on top of the choppy water. But (eventually) we make it to the mainland and wobble our way to an amazing hostel called White Elephant, which sits between Krabi town and Ao Nang; just down the road from the pier from which boats take you over to Railay. You cannot access Railay by road so this is the only way to visit the little beach town, and as such it remains a purely beautiful spot tucked between towering limestone cliffs. It really is an enchantingly adorable place – other than the signs instructing you which way to run in the event of a tsunami which are a little bit disconcerting.
We had planned to do the ‘sleep aboard’ trip to Maya Bay (the bay from the film The Beach), but unfortunately there was a storm coming in so we decided against it. Instead we set out to explore more of the Krabi area and end up in the middle of a jungle swimming around a naturally occurring emerald-coloured pool. After our refreshing dip in the gem-like water, we lower ourselves into the hot springs, which flow down a shallow waterfall into baths in between the roots of the trees. We lounge in the warm waters and try to soak up some of the magic that apparently resides amongst the bubbling waters here. That evening we witness a different kind of magic at a fantastically hilarious cabaret show in Ao Nang town (a perfect way to end any trip to Thailand) and try another delicious Thai dish: Pad Siew, which was much nicer than the famous Pad Thai and I’d never even heard of it, not even on social media.