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For a long time now, Khao San road has been the backpacker hangout in Bangkok – a short street packed with bars, massage parlours and street vendors, where you can buy a fake driver license, get a tattoo, and have a massage while drinking cocktails of rum and red bull from buckets (really, buckets).
We are staying across the city, at a friends apartment in Silom, but a day spent on Khao San is a must during out Bangkok stay.
We meet up with the perfect companions to take on a tour of Khao San road – our own young americans Craig and Ashley (Asha’s old housemated from North Carlton), who are heading through Thailand on the way back state-side.
By days end I am won over to the charm’s of Khao San road. We meander up and down the strip, buying singlets, drinking towers of Chang beer, smoking sweet-apple shishas. Once the sun sets, Khao San road has plenty of street food – and we try to sample it all.
Spring rolls and pad thai are the favourites here amongst the travellers, but there are plenty of carts grilling all manner of meats over charcoal – and the smells wafting up and down the street are hard to resist. Other vendors sell banana pancakes, delicious looking chicken kebabs, mango and sticky rice covered in condensed milk.
Craig wins the award for being the most adventurous – I cant find the stomach to join him in eating fried giant locusts, buy we do share a stick of chicken hearts, which taste fantastic.
With full bellies we have a $5 treat – a beer and a half hour foot-massage on the street. Foot massages in Thailand involved a lot more than the name suggests, with calfs, shins and even eventually shoulders and heads getting a good working over.
After a few beer towers and cocktail buckets, Craig has the great idea that we all should get Henna tattoos (temporary tattoos that last a couple of weeks). Everyone draws a name out of a hat, followed by a body part where that person’s name will be inked. Craig gets Asha’s name on his neck; Asha gets Craig on her chest; Ashley gets her name spelled incorrectdly on her boob; and I get Ryan on my felt forearm.
Sometime later the red-bull wears off, the beers catch up with us, and we hail a cab for home.
For a lot of travellers, this is the Bangkok they come to see. But as we hurtle through the night in a taxi back to our apartment in Silom – the heart of the new, modern and bustling Bangkok – the Khao San road ‘backpacker ghetto’ seems fabricated. For me the real, modern Bangkok is more enjoyable – but Khao San road deserves a visit, even if you choose to stay elsewhere.
As we travel across south-east Asia, we are filming a few seconds each day to give our family and friends a glimpse of what we have been upto.
Hopefully this video inspires someone to save some coin, quit their job and see the world.
This video shows the start of our adventure, through Nepal, Singapore and southern Thailand. We will be posting a new video at the start of each month.
Asha and Ryan 🙂
A cheap city like Bangkok means a delicious dinner can be found for a few dollars – but it also means when you want to splurge a bit, things get VERY gourmet.
With a serious craving for peking duck pancakes, Asha and I set off for Bangkok’s chinatown and after a couple of hours of wandering through street markets we settled in at Shangarilla.
Ordering roasted pork or duck in Chinatown here is seriously good eats (just watch Anthony Bourdain’s Thailand episode). First you are served the delicious crunchy skin, then the naked animal is sent back to the kitchen, only to return as a few different dishes.
A fat and delicious looking duck emerged from the kitchen, along with a team of 3 servers, who set about preparing Peking duck pancakes table side – the way it traditionally done.
The chef cuts the crunchy skin into small squares, and slices the skin away from the fat and meat. The duck skin is then rolled in pancakes with spring onion, a sliver of chilli and hoi-sin sauce. (Usually Peking Duck pancakes contain a slice of duck meat and skin.)
Its hardly health food – but it sure is delicious. Delicate little pancakes surrounding rich, crunchy duck skin.
The duck is sent back to the kitchen, and returns as two big dishes – garlic fried duck pieces, and sweet and sour duck.
The sweet and sour duck was great – very lightly battered duck, beautiful sauce (fresh pineapple in Thailand is so much sweeter than at home), however the garlic fried duck was pretty dry and very boney.
Needless to say we had to take home some duck doggie bags.
Cost: Peking Duck 900 Baht ($28)
When I read travel blogs, I always want to know ‘how much do things actually cost?’. But usually its really hard to find out. So, if you are planning to travel to the islands in Southern Thailand, I hope this is useful.
The islands of Krabi and Trang province are probably the most expensive destinations for travellers in Thailand – but that doesn’t mean it isn’t still really cheap. Our aim wasn’t to live as cheaply as possible – it was to enjoy the islands as much as we could without spending too much money.
We spent 24 days island hopping, and I spent about AUS$40 a day. This includes everything once we touched down at Phuket airport, from accommodation and food and drinks, through to sunscreen , boat transfers and snorkelling trips (it also includes our flights to Bangkok once we finished). We spent 2 days at Phuket, 6 days on Ko Phi Phi, 13 days on Ko Lanta, 3 days on Ko Ngai (I think).
The fact that you can travel here on a small budget is quite amazing – the islands really make postcards look like crap. Its paradise (I keep using that word) if the kind that you weren’t convinced was real.
An air-conditioned bungalow with a private bathroom on a secluded palm-lined beach can set you back $25-30 a night. That’s about the same as a bunk bed in an Australian backpackers. Even flash resorts usually have a pretty cheap standard room tucked away behind the expensive ones. We used Agoda to book rooms a fair bit and found it very useful and a good to save money.
Most of the islands aren’t really targeted towards low-budget travel, and plus this is the kind of place where its easy to talk yourself into paying a little more. You can rent a old, smelly fan bungalow for $15 a night a 20 minute walk from the beach – or you can spend $25 and get a gorgeous bungalow with air-conditioning near the water. Wake up in the morning, and charge out of bed into the sea. We didn’t want to stay ‘out the back of paradise’, so we usually spent a bit more.
The remoteness of some beaches and islands means you are locked in to spending more money. A resort on an island surrounded by thick jungle means you have to eat at the resort restaurant. Still – the food is pretty good, and you can always get dinner for 150 baht ($5) or less.
Could we have travelled cheaper? Yep. But we didn’t want to – it wouldn’t have been worth it. If you want some island time for super-cheap – you can book rooms/bungalows/houses on larger islands like Ko Lanta for a month or longer, at super-cheap prices.
Eating cheaply : Banana pancakes, Som Tam, Noodle Soup, Grilled Chicken
Most of the food on the islands is found at generic tourist restaurants that line the beaches. Don’t get me wrong, they are often gorgeous places – but they all have the same MASSIVE menus offering average versions of western staples (burgers, pasta, pizza, sandwiches), and watered-down versions of thai classics.
When there was street food available (such as on Ko Lanta and Phuket), we alternated between eating at tourist restaurants on the beach (lunch here costs around $5 each) and getting food from street vendors (lunch here costs $1-2). Eating at restaurants is fun, but it gets tiresome when you have to eat three meals a day this way.
The islands don’t provide as many options when it comes to street food – but in an reasonably sized town there will be places serving delicious local food for a dollar or two. Out of town, you may have to walk along a major road for a while before finding a food vendor. On a remote island – you will have to get your food from the resort restaurant – so visit 711 or the supermarket before you go and stock up on crackers, biscuits and chocolate!
Our street food favourites:
Som Tam, Sticky Rice and Chicken (as seen above)
Our definite favourite amongst street food on the islands. Sticky rice (also called sticky rice) is so good i can just eat it by itself. It seems Asha’s all time favourite meal is sticky rice and tomato sauce. But the perfect accompaniment for sticky rice is Som Tam, a salad of crunchy green-papaya, carrot, green beans, chillies, in an awesome sauce of smashed-up chillies, garlic, lime or lemon juice, palm sugar and fish sauce. Traditionally it also comes with small dried shrimp, which are pretty pungent, and raw salted crab.
Som Tam can be the hottest dish you have ever eaten, so be sure when ordering to ask for “no chilli” or “no hot”. You will still get a dish that is very spicy, but nowhere near the lip-numbing power that we experienced a couple of times. Also – only the most adventurous westerners will like the raw salted crab and dried shrimp – but its worth giving it a try. Crunching up raw, hard shelled crab with your teeth isn’t for everyone.
Any grilled meat goes well with this. Grilled meat in Thailand is so tasty – marinated, then cooked over charcoal right on the street. Its good to watch you dinner cooking next to your table.
Banana Pancakes with Nutella or Peanut Butter (40 Baht)
Things on a stick
The official food of Thailand should really be things on a stick. Street vendors everywhere are constantly cooking all many of things on skewers over hot charcoal. Everything from the familiar (chicken and sausages), to the somewhat unusual (baby squid or chicken nuggets) to the bizarre (bugs and insects).
Cut up pineapple, watermelon, papaya and mango can be bought by the bagful in every town. Cheap, healthy, fresh and satisfying.
Noodle Soup / Rice with Pork
Plenty of places sell noodle soup with pork, or rice with pork accompanied by noodle soup for 45 baht ($1.50). A filling lunch or dinner – and the stock used for the noodles and soup has usually flavour packed after bubbling away all day.
Some tips for travelling cheaply in the islands:
- Slow travel. One thing that beefs up spending is the travel itself.
- If you are travelling in high season (December – February), book ahead (we had some great experiences booking through Agoda). Otherwise you may find yourselves with limited options once you arrive, and be forced to paying more than you hoped.
- As always, booze blows your budget out. Its very easy to spend more on alcohol than on food. We only had a few beers and cocktails every now and then. Buying beer, vodka and local Sang Som rum from Mini-marts or 711 is a good idea. Have a few drinks at home before heading to a bar on the beach.
- Eat on the street – the food is better, faster and cheaper (fruit, banana pancakes, rice/noodles).
- Scuba diving chews up a lot of money. Whereas an 8-hour snorkelling trip on a longtail boat to 6 or 7 islands around Ko Phi Phi cost us 1000 baht (about $30) each.
- Don’t be afraid of the local travel agents. We thought just turning up at the ferry and buying tickets would be a lot cheaper – but often you can get to your destination for the same price, and they will organise a hotel transfer for you at either end.
- Motorcycle hire is a luxury that you don’t really need.
If you are dreaming about snorkelling in warm, turquoise water in front of your bungalow for a month – you can afford it. Get going.
Kah Hai was the perfect way to finish off the better part of a month spent in the islands. Not much to write about the island, its perfect really – we just sat on the shore and stared at this beautiful island just off the coast.
After Koh Phi Phi we decided to head down to another island south of the Krabi Provence, Koh Lanta. We heard it was a bit less touristy, quieter and cheaper than its northern cousins. We had intended to spend 4 days. 13 days later…. We were still there.
We arrived at Saladan, the biggest town on Koh Lanata. Saladan is a bit of an oddball town but Ryan and I loved the sleepy vibe of the place. During the day, it’s too hot to do anything and the beach isn’t really swim-worthy. Shops are open but their owners lie dozing on the floor or fanning themselves out the back somewhere. At night though, the town comes alive. The night market kicks off at sun down and tourists come out of the cracks to shop, eat and drink- much nicer without the sun busting in a making everyone sweaty and cranky. We found a great bar called Bar Acuda perched above the market that caught the (slight) breeze and served cold brewskis and spring rolls- so I was pretty much set.
We also sniffed out some pretty awesome street food. One vendor in particular made the best “NO SPICY” papaya salad. You may think that we’re a bit weak for not taking on the cultural essence and enjoying the salad as it should be. But last time I ordered a papaya salad in Patong and didn’t specify “NO SPICY” it was so hot I lost the use of my lips and taste buds and spent the next 20 minutes dribbling and hallucinating. From Saladan we ventured south to Phra Ae or “Long Beach”. This was indeed a long beach. The water was crystal clear and the sand so soft it was more like a powder. We spent most of our time reading, working on our sweet tans, swimming and napping. As the day cooled down, my favourite part was taking some beers down to the beach and watching the sun disappear over the ocean- a sunset to rival all sunsets.
The thing that surprised us the most was that there were hardly any Australians, especially compared to the bogan paradise of Patong. Instead, tourists were mainly older Germans and Scandinavians- most of who flopped about the beach sunbaking topless day in and day out. (Excuse me for being a prude, but personally I think a bit of respect, especially in a such a modest culture, is slightly more important than getting my nipples sufficiently bronzed. Plus no one wants to see your old saggy bits…). Some of the tans we witnessed were incredible. Far more than a holiday glow, for some people a tan is clearly a full time commitment. Think less sun-kissed but more crispy roast chicken skin or perhaps the leather of a worn old deep maroon leather lounge.
We stayed in a couple of places on Long Beach because it was pretty busy so we just slotted in where there was space. Our favourite place was a sweet bungalow at Papillon. Papillon is run by a Swedish family who make fresh bread each morning, have real coffee and free wifi. There’s only about 10 bungalows, all hidden underneath shady trees and if you’d had enough floating around in crystal clear water of the Adaman Sea they have sweet a pool you can use instead.
After the sun goes down, restaurants and bars along the beach set up tables and cushions out on the sand, lit lanterns, candles and twisted fairy lights up into the trees. Most places had fire twirlers later on during the night too. The whole beach seemed like a completely different place compared to the hot glary scene during the day. Our favourite place was called “Funky Fish”. It was funky and they served fish. Actually, like all of the resturants around the tourist spots their menu included EVERYTHING. Massive cooked breakfasts, burgers, schnitzel, traditional thai meals, Indian curries, naan, cesar salad, ice cream, pizza, . If you couldn’t find something you wanted on this menu you’re probably just being difficult.
After Long Beach we decided to move down further south to Klong Nin beach. This was a much quieter beach with less nightlife than Long Beach. Still a beautiful beach but a bit more rocky (and by I bit more I mean when the tide is out it is ..well…rocks.) We stayed at a super cheap place at the very south of the beach that was run by a gang of drunken sea gypsies who spent their time napping or swigging rum from the bottle. Good fun until you actually needed them to do something constructive.
Our room was big and blue and looked like it was suited more to a dodgy Eastern European casino. The bathroom was a stinky windowless cell that resembled the type of place you’d be kept whilst kidnapped, praying not to be killed, or in our case, to catch an aggressive fungal infection. But all in all it was cheap, close to the beach and well… cheap.
A Chinese woman stands amidst a throng of tourists frozen in ridiculous poses in waist deep water, and quietly vomits into the turquoise blue as cameras click all around her. Nobody seems to notice. Welcome to Maya Bay, the location of the Leonardo Di Caprio blockbuster ‘The Beach‘.
The plot of the movie is as such: a group of western backpackers create their own commune on an impossibly beautiful unknown beach in Thailand. The secret of the islands existence is closely guarded – if other travellers were to find out about it, it would threaten the groups very existence.
With this in mind, arriving at Maya beach is hilarious.
The shore is almost completely covered in boats – at one end of the beach a long row of traditional longtail boats are moored side-by-side, at the other end is an even larger collection of flashy high-powered tourist boats. Lady Gaga can be heard pumping from one of these. In between the two rows, a small area is fenced off for swimming. Its high season here, and if any more tourists come , boats will have to queue just to get in.
The beach is covered in tourists – short and tall, fat and skinny, the only common trait seems to be serious sunburn. People alight from their boats, and spend their 20 minutes on the beach trying to take photos of themselves in ridiculous poses, flicking hair out of the water, thrusting hips and breasts and doing stupid duck-lips. Thanks, Facebook.
Everyone tries – and fails – to take a photo that hides the fact that the world most beautiful, secluded beach can barely be seen among the great hordes.
Im not trying to be ‘holier than thou’ here – we were a willing part of this great mass of cameras and poses, during a short stop off on a snorkelling trip around the Phi Phi islands. Its just a good example of a common paradox you see while travelling – a site is so beautiful, it attracts so many tourists that the beautiful thing that once drew people to it can no longer be seen.
Somewhere, beneath the boats and bronzed bodies, lies one of the worlds most beautiful beaches. We catch a few glimpses of it, its beauty still manages to shine through in places. Later that day, we visit countless beaches just as beautiful as Maya Beach.
I (Ryan) took my camera down to the beach one night while staying on Phi Phi. I got some great long exposure shots (up to 20 seconds), where the moon makes the scene seem like sunrise (really its very dark).
Asha’s 26th birthday was celebrated in style, on a beach on the far side of Phi Phi Island in the Andaman sea. When you find a place like this, its hard to leave, and we kept extending our time on the island, eventually leaving after 6 days.
When the bungalows were fully booked the staff even let us sleep on the massage platform next to the water – like some poor, lost backpackers with nowhere to go except sleep in a beachside paradise.
Koh Phi Phi has a bit of a mixed reputation. The collecting of islands in the Andaman Sea became famous at the setting for Leonardo DiCaprio’s movie ‘The Beach’ – but I will do another post about that. Its real castaway kinda stuff out here. Soft white sand, warm blue water, coral reefs, jagged cliffs that come screaming up from the depths, bungalows.
Phi Phi’s main town of Tonsai is a bit crazy, and apparently is a bit of a party town. But if you want a real ‘get away from it all experience’, I cant recommend Relax Beach Resort on the far side of the island highly enough.
Get a boat from Phuket to Phi Phi, a longtail boat from the Tonsai jetty, and you will arrive to a remarkable scene. A collecting of bungalows emerge from the forrest, scattered along a sandy white beach. No electricity during the day, a sandy beachside bar, hammocks and massages.
There is plenty to do – if you like not doing much. What did we do for five days? Not sure. One day we went on an 8-hour island hopping expedition on one of the longtail boats. We visited 5 or 6 islands, went swimming in lagoons, hand-fed schools of fish and beach-loving monkeys, and snorkelled till our chests hurt. Asha got bitten by two fish, and had to swim through a sea of jellyfish to get back to our dive boat (unsuccessfully), and I got sunburnt in the shade.
But mostly we just sat on the sand and looked out at the ocean.