Thailand round up 🇹🇭

We crossed Thailand twice on our route through Southeast Asia. On the first, we entered Thailand from Cambodia and headed straight for Bangkok’s Chinatown. We then turned north towards the lovely border town of Nong Khai and crossed into Laos.

On our second stint through Thailand, we crossed the Lao-Thai Friendship Bridge at Huay Xai and ate our way through Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai. We then took a sleeper train south back to Bangkok, this time staying in the bustling Sukhumvit area. After a brief diversion to the Death Railway at Kanchanaburi, we continued south through the delightful seaside town of Prachuap Khiri Khan, and finally ended up on the desert island paradise of Ko Adang.

We wouldn’t normally have rushed through northern Thailand so quickly, but we’d read about how poor the air quality can be at this time of year. While we were actually very lucky with our timing and didn’t experience severe haze, the air quality in Chiang Rai has since risen to 125 times the limit deemed safe by the World Health Organisation. We really feel for the people who live there.

Carbon 🚆

Our travel through Thailand emitted 306 kgCO2e. Excluding flights, this is our second highest carbon emissions within a country to date (after Kazakhstan), although we did cover a grand total of 3,716 km mostly by train during our two transits across Thailand. That’s more than 2.5 times the distance from Land’s End to John o’ Groats!

Cost 💰

Thailand turned out to be the second most affordable country we’ve visited, just behind Georgia. To be fair though, we did travel more than three times the distance in Thailand as we did in Georgia over a similar period of time, which explains why our transport expenditure was so much higher in Thailand. In contrast, we saved money on transport but spent it on cheese in Georgia…

Cats 🐈 (and other wildlife 🐾)

Thailand scored fourth on our cats-per-day metric, just behind Cambodia. We were a little disappointed at Thailand’s final tally of 8.26 as it got off to a very strong start and looked like it might rival Turkey, but the lack of any cats on Ko Adang certainly hurt the grand total.

As well as Thailand’s strong crop of cats, we also came across some other pretty cool wildlife who deserved some serious recognition…

🏅Most fabulous lizard

Lizards are everywhere in Southeast Asia, but this chap’s colouring was on another level. I like to think he was conflicted about whether to blend in or stand out against his surroundings.

🏅Squadron leader, orange corps

We met this lovely chap on the military base in Prachuap Khiri Khan. He was conducting a lunchtime food inspection but was so spoilt for choice that he turned his nose up at the chicken skin Sara offered to him and instead climbed onto one of our neighbours’ laps, where he received a generous helping of prawns!

🏅Best coordinated tug of war

Ants are so impressive. Not only are the 12 ants below carrying what appears to be a chicken bone between them, but they’re carrying it straight up a vertical wall! 🤯

🏅Snappiest dresser at the night market

We met the chap below on the promenade in Nong Khai, and unsurprisingly we weren’t the only ones stopping to admire his furry bowtie. He seemed totally at ease with the crowds, and also didn’t seem bothered about being walked on a lead.

🏅Friendliest station master

And last but not least, this chap absolutely stole Sara’s heart. After sharing some of our fellow passengers’ rice, he strolled over and lay down next to us while we waited for our train at Nakhon Pathom. He didn’t even flinch when a huge goods train thundered past honking its horn. I guess this was just another Sunday afternoon for him.

Food 🌶

Thailand certainly didn’t disappoint on its food, although we’ve probably raved enough already about what we ate during our 19 days in the country.

A Burmese curry eaten in Kanchanaburi

Our one issue is that while it is well known for its spicy food and we also love a chilli or two, we consistently struggled to explain how hot we wanted our food – basically we wanted to eat the original version of the dish, without any chilli added or taken away. Many restaurants suggested we take the food “medium spicy”, which on the face of it sounds like a good call, but we couldn’t shake the feeling that some dishes had been watered down to suit Farang tastes and often ended up too mild for our liking. We also tried “as you would have it”, though I think that was just too subjective. Our struggles reminded me of a spice scale we once saw in a restaurant that had Athens at the mild end, London in the middle, and Delhi at the spicy end. This is what we needed!

The UK FCDO currently advises against all but essential travel through much of the area north of the Thailand-Malaysia land border. This left us in a bit of a predicament, as it ruled out both rail crossings and most road crossings between the two counties. That was until Sara came across a ferry connection between the Thai island of Ko Lipe and the Malaysian island of Langkawi, both of which we were excited to visit. Phew!

All of our desert island fantasies fulfilled on Ko Adang

From Prachuap Khiri Khan, we took the train north to Hua Hin, where we had a five-hour wait for our sleeper train. The town used to be known as an exclusive holiday destination of the Thai royal family, but nowadays it’s a popular domestic and international holiday resort, with practically every major hotel brand represented along the very long beach. After a confusing transaction at the left luggage office in the train station (where we may have paid someone who didn’t actually work there), we headed off on foot to check out the beach. Even late in the day, it was pretty busy (and incredibly windy), but it did make a great spot for people watching and admiring the many kitesurfers off the beach.

Hua Hin beach

Our next stop was Jek Pia, a local institution that has been in town for more than 50 years, where we continued a long tradition of ordering things that arrive on fire and then immediately regretting our choice. One of the ladies who was serving took us under her wing and came over to check up on us several times – she was simultaneously very maternal and extremely disapproving! She tutted in disbelief that we’d started our hotpot with just four pieces of pork and instead dumped the whole lot in – probably a good move or we’d have been there all evening. When I scalded myself on some hot broth, neither Oli or I were particularly perturbed as I do that kind of thing all the time, but she also witnessed it and was absolutely horrified. Enough was enough! She called out some orders and one of her staff came to confiscate our fire, leaving us just with our cooked food. We wanted to be offended that she didn’t trust us but we were actually quite relieved to have it off the table.

Clay pot of broth in which we cooked pork strips, egg, spring onions and cabbage (badly)

After quick trip around the night market in Hua Hin and then a long wait at the station, we boarded our sleeper train that would take us south towards the provincial capital Trang.

We arrived the following morning later than scheduled and had missed the first minibus to Pak Bara but managed to squeeze onto the second at 11.00, ready for a 13.30 ferry to the tiny island of Ko Lipe. But Ko Lipe wasn’t even our final destination – from the main jetty, we took another seriously bumpy tuk tuk across the island, and then a taxi boat across the water to the sparsely-habited, National Park island of Ko Adang.

Twenty-eight hours after leaving our hotel in Prachuap Khiri Khan, we hopped off the boat and onto our very own desert island.

Although Ko Lipe is also a part of Tarutao Marine National Park, it may as well not be, since it has been developed so extensively. In contrast, Ko Adang, a larger island of approximately 5 km by 6 km sitting just across the water, is mostly made up of jungle, peaks, empty white sand beaches and coral reefs. In one small corner, there’s a ranger station, small restaurant, camping area, and a series of little National Park bungalows, which is where we stayed. The bungalows weren’t remotely fancy, but that didn’t matter in the slightest when we were waking up to a gorgeous view of the Andaman Sea.

We got up early to take a short hike up to the peak overlooking our beach, about 225 m above sea level. There are three viewpoints, and from the third, we ate our breakfast with a beautiful view across to Ko Lipe. It’s such a tiny island and there were so many people on it – we had to keep reminding ourselves that not everyone is quite as unsociable as us and maybe they liked the company!

Looking across to Ko Lipe from viewpoint 3

We spent the rest of our time on Ko Adang swimming, walking on the beach, gazing out at the sea from our terrace, and conducting repeated and very detailed budget planning meetings. I should probably explain the last one – somehow, despite estimating how much cash we might need for our few days on the island and adding some contingency, we realised as soon as we arrived that it was going to come down to the wire. By forgoing coffee (😧), planning what we would order for every meal based on price/calorie ratios, and replacing breakfast with the snacks we’d brought, we managed to scrimp and save enough for a luxury item: hiring two snorkels on our final day.

This was a bit of a highlight – the reef was gorgeous, with blue starfish, hundreds of neon-coloured fish and some spectacular corals. We did swallow quite a lot of seawater between us though, as we kept getting hysterical giggles at each other attempting to talk through our snorkels. It turns out the letter ‘b’ is particularly tricky, and don’t even attempt ‘fish’.

Being a National Park, the wildlife away from the reefs was also pretty cool. We spent a vast amount of time following crabs around the beach – they are fascinating creatures! We also saw plenty of lizards, crab-eating macaques (who, controversially, don’t eat much crab), spectacular schools of flying fish, and most exciting of all, some flying lemurs. This was a first for both of us, and while Oli thought they weren’t much to look at, I fell in love with their funny appearance – somewhere between a big bat, a koala and a sloth.

Perhaps the part of our plan that was most satisfying of all was that our island paradise also happened to be perfectly situated to cross by sea into Malaysia, via an easy ferry connection from Ko Lipe. We were pretty reluctant to leave, though – it’s not often we come across somewhere so perfectly unspoilt yet comfortable. We’ll be back one day!

Tips from us

We didn’t find a huge amount of information about Ko Adang online, so just in case you’re thinking of going (do!), I’ve popped a couple of pointers below:

It took us a couple of attempts to book our bungalow. We were able to check availability on the Department of National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation website but didn’t manage to make a reservation online (it sounds like this is a common problem). In the end, what worked was to ask our Thai-speaking guesthouse owner to call on our behalf (numbers in this article). She was passed around a bit but eventually spoke to someone who said they would check availability and call back that evening. Unfortunately, we were leaving town, but our next hotel called again and managed to make a reservation with just a first name and they were happy to accept payment in cash when we arrived.

The ranger station, where we picked up the key to our bungalow

We found this blog post really useful when planning our trip – it helped us decide that Ko Adang was a better choice for us than our original plan of Ko Tarutao. However, they mentioned that bungalows 1-6 all had a sea view, but actually we’d recommend avoiding Adang 5 as it’s set back behind the other bungalows. Adang 1-4 and 6-8 all have a lovely sea view, with the most direct views and greatest seclusion found in the lowest-numbered bungalows (but also the longest walk from the beach and restaurant). We stayed in Adang 6 and loved it.

Our view from Adang 6

Prepare for the bungalows to be fairly basic: cold water showers, no WiFi, electricity only between 6pm and 6am, and genuinely the hardest bed I’ve ever slept in – I’m not sure what we were sleeping on but it wasn’t a mattress as we know it. The only thing that caused us any kind of problem was the bed; it really was that hard. If you happen to be travelling with a yoga mat, it’ll come in handy! On the plus side, we had air conditioning, which was an unexpected treat.

There’s no WiFi at all on the island, but the mobile data connection was surprisingly good.

The restaurant doesn’t serve alcohol – not even beer! Apparently this is a recent development and it took us by surprise. One of the campers we met had popped over to Ko Lipe to stock up and the staff were happy for him to store his supplies in their giant cool box, so that might be an option if a cold beer is important to you.

The restaurant, open from 07.30-14.30 and 17.30-20.30

Finally, remember to take enough cash for your time on the island (or you can pop over to Ko Lipe where there are ATMs, but we didn’t want to break the spell of our desert island by going somewhere busy!) The taxi boat from Ko Lipe was 100 baht per person from Sunset Beach or 200 baht per person from Pattaya Beach (where ferries arrive and depart), snorkels cost us 50 baht each to hire for the day, and I’ve popped photos of the restaurant menu with prices below. The portions weren’t huge but the food was tasty.

If you do make it there, enjoy – it’s a special place! And please do say hello to the flying lemurs from me.

“Is this the Thailand you’ve been searching for?” (Lovely Prachuap Khiri Khan)

After the sober sights of the last few days, it was time to continue on our path southwards and visit the catchily-named town of Prachuap Khiri Khan. This small town came highly recommended by Lonely Planet as being off the beaten track, our previous guesthouse owner had described it as unspoilt, and it received a glowing write-up from the same blogger couple who had loved Nong Khai, so we were pretty confident that we were onto a winner.

We boarded the open-windowed train bound for Bangkok, but hopped off after about two hours to change onto a southbound train. This required some planning and speed, since the train really didn’t stop for long at each station and they weren’t announced in advance. Thankfully, all our practice at Public Transit Roulette meant that we were ready! The train conductor seemed very surprised to see that we were on the move and wanted to know where we were going. Repeating “Prachuap Khiri Khan” three times because our pronunciation was so poor took quite a while, but eventually he understood and took great pride in telling us that there was a train heading in that direction in 40 minutes – well, we knew that, that’s why we were here! We thanked him anyway, and we were really amused to see him hanging off the train as it pulled out of the station, beaming at us and calling, “Remember, 40 minutes!”.

Our next train was scheduled to take five hours and we’d treated ourselves to second class in the hope of some air conditioning, but no such luck. It was another window-cooled train, and we were soon to learn that these are even more of an assault on the senses by night since this is when the bugs turn up!

When we eventually arrived in Prachuap Khiri Khan around 10pm, we were pretty tired and absolutely filthy from the open train windows, but we had just one more mode of transport to tackle before we could shower and sleep: a tuk tuk meets motorbike side car. I can confidently say it is one of the least comfortable forms of transport I’ve ever taken, but it got us safely to our destination with only moderate jarring of our backs and necks, so I won’t complain!

The next morning, we borrowed bikes from our hotel to get around town. Amazingly, these were free of charge and roadworthy (but the lock did jam shut later in the day, leaving passers by to assume we were attempting to steal them – you can’t have everything)! Our first destination was the local air base, because we’d read that we could show our passports to get access to the best beach in the area, which sat within the base. In reality, the guard seemed supremely relaxed about letting us pass and simply gestured us towards a neighbouring building where there was a book to sign in. There were no headers at the top of the page and no one to ask, so just as everyone previous had presumably done, we copied the person above and the errors continued down the page – I’m sure we wrote ‘beach’ in at least four of the columns! We hopped back on our bikes and cycled through the beautifully tended grounds – and then right across the runway!

As we pulled up at the beach, Oli turned to me and asked, “So is this the Thailand you’ve been searching for?” It really was!

After a day spent at the beach, we headed into town for a cycle along the promenade, which was an equally chilled affair.

The next day was the first of a multi-day journey that would take us nearly to the Malaysian border, but we couldn’t leave before picking up our laundry. Bizarrely, they had scrawled ‘Oli’ onto the label of every single item we gave them, and where the garment didn’t have a label, just straight onto the fabric with a permanent marker. We’ve had a few weird laundry experiences, but this has to be the strangest!

With that, it was time to bid farewell to Prachuap Khiri Khan to continue our journey south. It occurs to me now that we never did sign out of the air base, I do hope they’re not still looking for us…