What I Did: A handful of nights in Bangkok here and there and over a month in Koh Tao
Overall: Koh Tao is a diver’s paradise and the perfect place to learn. You’ll be overwhelmed with options for where to do your open water, don’t feel pressured to sign up beforehand or on the ferry, where touts will hand out brochures and encourage you to sign up on the spot. Make time to see other beaches than Sairee. Once you do, Sairee will look like a beach on Long Island!
I feel a bit funny writing a round up of Thailand when I had such a limited view of the country. But I loved it immensely and it stole my heart, so I guess I’m somewhat qualified to give my take. I know a lot of traveler’s move quickly through Thailand, evidenced by the many people coming in and out of Koh Tao in just a few days, but I really enjoyed taking a longer, slower look at a place. Its hard to capture my feelings for Thailand in a few words, but suffice it to say it changed my life!
Getting around: Buses in Thailand were very comfortable. While obviously not up to Western standards, there was a toilet (not a flushing one), air conditioning, and movies playing. Prices were reasonable. I recommend the overnight bus to Koh Tao, it’s the only way to make the length of the trip seem like a breeze. In Bangkok it seems on foot or public transit is the most reliable, cabs are a pain and traffic is unreal.
Food: Again, not exactly a foodie here. That being said, Thai food really grew on me. At the beginning of my stay in Koh Tao I ate at a lot of the mainstream tourist restaurants that served western food and such, but when my stay was extended my budget was stretched and it forced me to join Mark at his favorite roadside haunts, and I’m grateful! One tip: stick to chicken. I stubbornly ordered beef quite a few times before realizing its not a good idea in a country without cows. Another: eat banana nutella pancakes every single day. For 35 baht it is the most delicious thing I have ever tasted and the first thing I ate arriving back from Cambodia.
People: Thais are notoriously friendly and they lived up to their reputation. I theorized that perhaps this was a result of Thailand having never been colonized by Western countries, the only Southeast Asian country to make that claim. Some say I overanalyze. The other people in Thailand are the ubiquitous backpackers and their nearby relatives the hippie expats. I was overwhelmed by the friendliness and friendships forged by near strangers. This was my first true taste of the traveling community, and I loved it!
Good to know: The massages really are $5. The King’s image is everywhere and is reflective of his place in the hearts and minds of the Thais. Small cuts will get infected. There is more to Bangkok than Khao San Road. It is possible to survive in Thailand despite having never eaten Thai food in your life. Go.