It’s been a month since I returned from my trip to Thailand and I’ve had time to get over the holiday blues. I booked my holiday through STA Travel who recommended the Tru Travels 8 Day Thailand Explorer tour.
So what was it like going on an organised tour?
I mentioned in my previous post the I was starting “Operation Thailand” I gave myself 6 weeks prior to the trip to get fit… I Failed. But… What is important is that I didn’t care, I went and I had an amazing time, despite resembling a beached whale in my bikini. I’m going to give you a day by day breakdown of the highlights and how organised tours don’t always mean forced fun.
After the flight that seemed to take forever I arrived in Bangkok, I was met in arrivals by a lady with my name on a board and then had to wait at the airport for two hours as one of the other guys in the group had missed his connecting flight. By the time we got to the hotel I was ready to drop and it was only 5pm. I checked in to the Mango Hotel and met my tour leader, Dean. You could tell he was used to dealing with Jetlagged people so he got me checked in and told me to come back down when I was ready. I tried to resist the urge to nap but the long flight and time difference got the better of me and I got my head down for two hours. After that I was introduced to the rest of the team that had arrived and we headed out for some dinner and welcome drinks. Over dinner we got to know each other a little and although it felt a little forced and awkward to begin with before we knew it everyone was getting along and starting to bond. Dean did his best to integrate the group and as a fun loving, London geezer, it was not a hard job for him. After dinner we moved on to a Reggae bar that was located down what can only be described as a dark, dodgy, back alley. I had my first taste of the local nightlife and cheap drinks and then I was ready for bed.
Day two the tour began. It was the most cultured day of the trip which involved some temples and boat rides. Not being a massive fan of the water, I get seasick, I was a little apprehensive when Dean told me that we were going on the river. We all met up as a group in the morning and the stories began about the night before. Having two other guys on the tour from the UK meant that there was lots of banter and sarcasm even after the first night so that was great for me. We were joined by our Thai Guide, Steve, as you’re not allowed to do the temple tours without an official Thai Guide. We boarded the longtail boat and headed off down the river. We were warned to be careful of the splashing water as is was gross and wouldn’t be good if we swallowed any. We stopped on the way to the first temple to feed the fish, which is seen as good luck in Thai culture. After that we went to one temple, we learned about the history of Buddha and went into the temple to meet a monk, unfortunately he was not doing blessings so Steve showed us how to worship and then we moved on to the temple across the river where you can find the ‘Big Buddha’ It was really hard to show just how big the Buddha is in one picture but wow… it was big. After the second temple we jumped in Tuk Tuks and raced back to the hotel.
After the culture had finished we were left to our own devices. We all decided to get lunch together and because I am not a fan of Thai food, strange I know, I opted for a ham sandwich, much to the delight of the rest of the tour group. This gave them ammunition for a ribbing throughout the trip. We met up again later in the evening for pre drinks and a night out on the famous Kao San road. It was an experience, buckets of alcohol, dancing, girls trying to get you to go into certain pubs but I love any excuse to have a dance and I love cocktails so I was in my element.
Cue the hangover… Everyone looked rough and tired but luckily day three was a chilled one, sort of. We went for a massage as it would be rude not to and then we went to board the night train to Kao Sok national park. Dean briefed us on the night train and told us to expect the worst. I started to panic and my anxiety kicked in a little but there wasn’t another option so i just rolled with the punches and didn’t let the group know how worried I was. I don’t deal well with bugs and luckily I had been given some advice to help me on the trip. The advice is that the top bunk, although hot, is the better option if you want to avoid the bugs. We got on the train and every 5 minutes someone new wandered up and down the carriage offering you snacks and drinks. Luckily we’d been to the 7/11 already so we were already armed. About 7pm the guards came round and made up the beds. They had fresh sheets and pillows and for a train, they were not that comfortable. It was, however, boiling and as I mentioned earlier, I suffer with travel sickness so I didn’t manage to get much sleep. There are a few tips I can give you though, bring your own toilet paper, the toilets are a hole in the floor so that is a challenge on a moving train and my second tip is that you can pick up travel sickness tablets in every 7/11 for about 25p. The night train is definitely something everyone should experience and although it wasn’t my favorite thing on the whole trip it could have been a lot worse.
We got off the night train about 6am and bundled ourselves into a minibus. We stopped on the way to grab some breakfast at 7/11 and it was there I was introduced to my new favorite food and love of my life, the ham and cheese toastie. (I have had them before) They were unreal, and unlike other ham and cheese toasties I’ve ever had. They were about 50p and really hit the spot, they quickly became my go to food while out and about. We arrived at Kao Sok national park and were met with gloomy weather and the prospect of another boat ride. Unfortunately it was just something I had to endure if i wanted to experience Thailand. We jumped on the second boat of the trip and headed in search of our floating bungalows. The weather cleared somewhat so we stopped off on the way for a dip in the beautifully clear waters. Jumping off the side of the boat and wearing a life jacket like a nappy were just part of the experience. The water was calm and warm and it was beautiful, until the heavens opened and the downpour started. It didn’t bother us while we were in the water but when we got back on the boat it was hard to stay warm when we were wet and getting wetter. We arrived at the floating bungalows that would be our home for the evening and my gosh, the scenery was incredible. It was secluded, relaxing and beautiful. there was no phone signal, and no electricity until 6pm but that meant we had more time to get to know each other, have fun in the water, drink and play games. The rain didn’t stop while we were there but we embraced it and made the most of it. We were joined by another tour group and this is where I became grateful that I had chosen Tru Travels for my tour. In the evening after dinner we sat around and chatted, laughed and had some drinks while the other tour were being made to take part in organised games. It looked so forced and made me feel happy that we could just chill and vibe as a group and make mutual decisions on how we had fun. Ring of fire was out game of choice and we had a lot more fun than the other group.
It was time to leave Kao Sok national park and embark on our final quest to find the island of Koh Phangan. I got up early in hope of catching the sun rise but the clouds and rain continued so there was no such luck. To get to Koh Phangan we had to get on a ferry so again, I popped some pills and closed my eyes. I’m glad I did because when I opened them half way over the waves were splashing up against the windows and the boat was rocking side to side. We arrived on the island and the sun came out to greet us. We jumped in a taxi (4×4 jeep thing) and headed off down dirt tracks until we reached Bottle Beach. This is where the feelings of paradise started. The water was clear, the sun was shining, the sand was golden and we were in a secluded and relaxed bit of the island. The vibe of this place was incredible and the views spectacular. We swam in the sea, played beach vollyball, ate good food, drank cocktails and took ‘pics for the gram’. I didn’t want to leave.
We were given the option of hiking up to the viewpoint at bottle beach in the morning and I thought ‘fuck it’ it cant be that hard… It was! We climbed for what felt like forever and I almost gave up at least 5 times but the group spurred me on and I am so glad they did. this was the highlight of my trip. The views were breath taking. After we climbed back down, we jumped into another boat and headed off for our next stop (I really should have checked the itinerary). We arrived on the other side of the island and headed off for our Muay Thai boxing class. It was great fun, sweaty, but really enjoyable. I love boxing class back home so it was great to have a lesson with someone who does traditional Muay Thai. After that we headed off to check into the hotel where we would spend our final few nights. The hostel is going through a re-branding and is partly owned by the tour company, Tru Travels, I believe it is going to be called Tru Monkey when it reopens. It was a fantastic hotel, really well equipped for a hostel and the showers were warm! That night Dean took us to his favorite spot, which would quickly become our favorite spot, Echo Beach. This place is amazing. The staff are friendly, the drinks are well prices, it has a great atmosphere and even has its own shot. The echo bomb. Needless to say I had plenty of these.
Today we had some organised activities. We went to a place that looked like it was in the jungle and we did the Thai version of Go Ape, I feel like the safety features could use some work but it was safe enough. We zipwired through the jungle, did some archery and then learnt how to make some Thai food. After that we went out for our farewell meal and another night at Echo Beach! As it was our final evening I decided I wanted to get a hand poked bamboo tattoo… they have a tattooist at Echo Beach and while I’m not usually once to be reckless I had seen some of his work so knew it was safe. I decided on a palm tree and wave and his work exceeded my expectation. The group had a great last night at Echo beach and got a Lexy burger after. Lexy burger is legendary on the island of Koh Phangan. What this woman does in amazing. Her burgers are made to order and will go up there in my top 5 burgers ever!
The final goodbye. We all woke up the morning after and realised our time together had come to an end. It was emotional and we all said our final farewells and went our separate ways.
Overall my experience of my first organised group tour was amazing. I would definitely book another one but only with Tru Travels. They have the best guides who genuinely want to be your friend, don’t make you play party games and show you what the locals do!
If you want to give touring a go then check out the Tru Travels website… here. Im going to try the Philippines next time.