In my mind, I was going to Asia for four or five months to travel around Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia, and any other countries in Asia I decided to add along the way.
In reality, a three week trip to Asia was much more convenient and affordable, and also a good compromise given I’d spent six months in Costa Rica and was wrapping up my travels.
The actual plan was to spend two weeks in Thailand and one in Malaysia. Thailand has been very high on my ‘to visit’ list, mainly because I love Thai food.
As I was travelling solo, I decided to join a tour for the first week followed by a week in Bangkok. This post is about the first week with the tour.
I had a look at various tours and settled on the Bangkok to Chiangmai Express tour with G Adventures. I hadn’t used this company before, but a couple of friends recommended them, the price was reasonable compared to other tours, there was no hill trekking or mandatory cycling (not my cup of tea) and I liked the varied itinerary that included multiple places, nice hotels, a floating raft house and an overnight train. Exciting!!
I arrived in Bangkok on a Monday morning in September, the same day the tour was starting. Luckily I was able to check in early to the hotel after my 15 hour flight from London, so I had a few hours of sleep and woke up in time to have a wander around the area and grab something to eat before the introductory meeting in the evening. The tour guide and our group of ten tourists seemed friendly enough. We went out for dinner together and called it a night for an early start the next day.
I should point out that September is the rainy season. In an ideal world, this trip would be in November during the best weather. However, having lived through a rainy season in Costa Rica, I know there are a lot of perks to rainy season. Flights are cheaper, there are fewer tourists around and the weather is generally cooler. After all, a bit of rain isn’t going to ruin my holiday! It did rain pretty much every day, but usually only once or twice for an hour or so in the late afternoon or evening.
The tour started in Bangkok and we worked our way north via private van and an overnight train.
Most of our travels were in air conditioned vans, which was great with our luggage in the hot and humid weather. We stopped at little cafe style restaurants for lunch and dinner that provided decent and cheap meals. For me, all of the food was amazing and delicious. I’m a fan of spice and it was hard not to find a flavoursome dish at every place. And I was thrilled that a meal usually cost less than 80 baht (£2 or $3).
We visited so many different places. In Bangkok we visited the Wat Pho giant Buddha. Our guide explained a lot of history about every place we visited.
One of my favourite parts of the trip was the raft house. I had imagined we’d be staying in a wooden hut on stilts in the water. The raft house was actually a little white house-ship that was docked at the side of a lake. It was not luxurious, and it was definitely different. The real surprise was that a motor boat connected to the raft house and pulled the whole thing along the lake! We all sat on the deck and enjoyed the ride. We ‘parked’ along the lakeside on the mountainous side and the motor boat left us. This was our isolated stop until the morning. I hopped in a canoe with three new tourist friends and we paddled around a couple of bends. The views were amazing. Our canoe was precariously balanced with four of us, which added to the fun. I’m pleased to say there was no tipping over. Some of the others had a swim in the warm water before dinner, which was served at an open table and delivered to us by a motor boat. It was a quiet and relaxing evening, and I loved sleeping in a floating house!
There were a lot of beautiful temples and ruins on our agenda. I liked the places we stayed at and breakfast was included everyday. Sometimes we had time to explore on our own or relax.
The overnight train was an interesting experience, and one I was glad to have the guidance of our tour guide!
Another highlight was the cooking class that I signed up to in Chiangmai. We visited a local market to buy fresh ingredients before going to the cooking school to make spring rolls, green curry, tom yum soup and pad thai. I was really impressed by how easy it all seemed (of course it helped that the school pre-prepped a lot of things for us!). I actually feel I could make all of these dishes again.
Also in Chiangmai, some of us in the group went to a ladyboy cabaret show, which was a lot of fun. It consisted of beautiful ladyboys dressed in cabaret style outfits, feathers and all, performing dance routines to classic hits like ‘it’s raining men’. There was a great atmosphere and everything was in good jest.
The tour finished on a Sunday morning and I decided to stay an extra night in Chiangmai before heading back to Bangkok by train. I had a great time at the Sunday night market which had a variety of items on sale and amazing food stalls.
In a country that feels so ‘foreign’ – different language, culture and food – the tour was a really nice and safe introduction to Thailand. I appreciated the good company and having someone to ‘hold my hand’ when going to restaurants, tourist sites and using tuktuks for the first time.
I did go on to spend another week in Bangkok which was really fun and felt like a breeze to get around on my own after a week with the tour.