Wednesday, December 23, 2015

How to Travel Thailand on a Budget

Keen to travel but can't afford to splurge? Thailand really is the perfect destination. The South African rand is roughly 2,5 to the baht, making it a totally affordable option for the young and restless. I went in April of this year with three of my friends and can honestly say I will look back on the two week stay with the fondest of memories.

What was the itinerary, you ask? We decided our must see's were Phuket, Railay and Phi Phi. Often, you'll find that travelling from Cape Town quickly becomes expensive, but we were lucky enough that our flights (booked through STA travel) weren't routed through Joburg. Instead we flew Qata airlines via Doha. Despite having an eight hour layover in Doha on the way there, the journey was relatively painless, mainly because we were placated by the amazing shopping in the airport! I for one bought a Harrods (yes, Harrods!) wallet in the airport for the equivalent of R500. And flying into Phuket is like nothing I have ever experienced before - it was so drop dead gorgeous, you forget all about the exhaustion that was starting to set in.

We were of course met by a heatwave as we got off the plane, which kind of made it that much more exciting and tropical. Although we knew we were going at an incredibly hot time of year, we didn't realise just how hot. On one of the days we were in Phuket, the tour guide proudly reaffirmed that it was the hottest day of the year. Anyway, one of the mistakes I would advise against is trying to exchange currency at the airport. I was offered a ridiculous exchange rate which is badly inflated in comparison to the other exchanges in and around Phuket. Also, not all of them take rands and the few that do will sometimes only take "new rands" (with Mandela on it) or as I like to call them, Randela's!

We stayed at Peach Hill Hotel & Resort in Phuket for five nights. It is a short walk or tuktuk ride down to Kata Beach. Definitely the highlight for me were the selection of beautiful pools that you can swim in as well as proximity to amazing Indian restaurants! Interestingly enough, we ate way more Indian food in Thailand than Thai food.  My favourite were definitely all of the paneer curries - I was in foodie heaven! The first couple of days we lounged, explored Phuket tuktuk and did a day of snorkelling. I had never snorkelled before and, after being warned of all sea urchins, started to wonder if I would enjoy it. I absolutely loved it though, and the guides (despite speaking poor English) are so sweet and show you how it's done! Regardless of your swimming ability, it's amazing just to float on the surface with a life jacket open underneath you, as flailing limbs aren't ideal for not disturbing the fish. I was absolutely mesmerized and didn't want to get out of the water! On one of the last days that we were in Phuket, we did a boat tour around the surrounding islands, which although nice, was heaving with tourists and the smell of boat petrol hung thick. The least spectacular of the whole trip was James Bond Island, whose next door island is a depressing market frantic with tourists.

Other cool things we did in Phuket included visiting Big Buddha and Wat Chalong Temple. 

We also ventured to Patong Beach for an extremely eventful evening out! We walked down the infamous Bangla road to laze on the beach for a while, and were offered wristbands into a club called Illuzion. Needless to say, after drinking a bottle of rum as predrinks, we were all too keen to see what Illuzion was about. And it definitely did not disappoint! It was so thrilling to be in a nightclub with incredible dance music and acrobats suspended from the ceiling! We caught a taxi back to Peach Hill after a long night of dancing, and woke up early the next day with a lot of great albeit hazy memories after one too many vodka red bull buckets (One is in fact too many :) ) to leave to Krabi. 

Getting there was a scary ordeal - we caught a mini bus, and the driver insisted on overtaking on blind rises and running through red lights, which seems to a be a frightening norm in Thailand. 

Peach Hill was the only accomodation we had booked for the trip - we wanted to play Railay and Phi Phi by ear - so looked a lot at TripAdvisor for accomodation ideas and found an amazing hotel in Aonang for us to stay at called Aonang Eco Inn. We booked for two nights but ended up staying much longer - the staff were so kind and they also rent scooters (which, after a zip around the parking lot, I was too nervous to drive on the road!) 

The shopping in Aonang was absolutely incredible - I far preferred it to shopping in Phuket and managed to get all my gifts for my family here. The snorkelling was also better here than Phuket (couldn't believe there could be anything better!) so all round we were incredibly happy during this part of the trip. Incredibly, there were some insane Italian restaurants in Aonang, so after a long day of shopping you are able to indulge in a delicious Alfredo! The haggling in Thailand certainly takes a lot of getting used to, but in Aonang I found myself finally getting the hang of it, and have a beautiful sarong and typical Thailand pants to show for it. Another one of my favourite moments in Thailand was getting to the top of Tiger Cave Temple - 1200+ steps later. It was so calming climbing all the way to the top, although the heat did make it a challenge. 

After an unexpectedly long time at the Eco Inn, we caught a ferry to Phi Phi - the party island of Thailand. It is certainly paradise for young party goers, and we were so excited for the night of fire poi that lay ahead. I didn't enjoy our accomodation in Phi Phi but simply because it was right on the beach so very sandy and noisy - so I could definitely have better anticipated that! We also discovered our aircon not to be working and so had to move rooms shortly after checking in. Regardless though, it was totally suitable given we only spent one night in Phi Phi and caught a ferry back to Phuket the next day to fly home. 

All in all, I have to say that Thailand was an absolutely incredible holiday. Sure, I went with lovely people, but I think it would be hard not to enjoy the food, people and beaches of Thailand. If you are willing to brave the tourists, taxi drivers and in some places, bad littering, it is otherwise incredible. The whole holiday couldn't have cost us much more than R16 000 which, considering the amount of snorkelling we had done and food we had eaten, we were pleasantly surprised by. 

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