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August 15th 1998
Published: August 10th 2007
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Elephant nature parkElephant nature parkElephant nature park

Sharing a ride in Chiang Mai.
There is an indefinable quality that makes Buddhist countries superb travel destinations, and possibly the most famous of these is Thailand. Tourists flock to this Asian paradise from all over the world, and when it comes to the tourism industry the Thais do things better and with more grace than anyone else ... and who can resist the world famous Thai cuisine! When I arrived in Bangkok I mysteriously slotted into Thai lifestyle as if they had cast a magic spell over me. It hardly seems possible to be in a foreign country for the first time, and yet from the moment of arrival feel so relaxed and at ease. But that's the mystery of Thailand; in a country of 60 million people who are 95% buddhist and also boasting one of the strongest economies in the region. The country draws further strength from being a kingdom with a revered monarch.

Bangkok is a bustling supercity, dear reader, with traffic and chaos to match. There is a large expat community from around the world, and it's a very popular tourist destination featuring great Thai cooking schools. I spent a few days wandering around the city and also enjoyed a speedboat
James Bond IslandJames Bond IslandJames Bond Island

Tropical paradise featured in one of the 007 movies.
cruise along the river, but was having lots of trouble just managing to cross the road. The first time on a busy street I was on the side of the road for so long that a man came up, took me by the arm and walked me across the road as the cars swerved around us without slowing down, somehow managing not to clean our clocks. The most famous tourist area is Khao San road, which is a teeming destination packed with tourists and vendors who swarm all over the road. There are plenty of bars nearby and it's great fun, and while in Bangkok I also explored several of the famous temples that dot the city.

I boarded a flight with the superb Thai airways to Chiang Mai in the north of Thailand, not far from the borders of Myanmar and Laos. Chiang Mai is a beautiful city, and the Thai locals have a different look and lifestyle in the north of the country. I checked into an excellent hostel to begin my stay in the second largest city in Thailand, which is more than 750 kilometres north of Bangkok. The locals are famed for their hospitality, and
Chiang Mai hostelChiang Mai hostelChiang Mai hostel

This hostel had extremely friendly and welcoming staff!
the temples in Chiang Mai are superb. I took a taxi 15 kilometres out of town to Prathat Doi Suthep temple which is situated on top of Suthep mountain. It is a spectacular golden stupa temple at 1080 metres, and you have to climb hundreds of steps to reach the temple on the summit.

At the hostel I signed up for a jungle tour organised by the friendly staff. This was an excellent opportunity to get out amongst the northern Thai hill tribes people, and gain some knowledge of their traditional way of life. We rode elephants through the jungle and watched the mahouts bathing their charges later in the river. Elephants are wonderful animals, and incredibly sure footed even when negotiating very steep terrain. We then rode on bamboo rafts down the river for several hours before arriving at the Elephant training camp outside Chiang Mai. The mahouts put their elephants through their paces in an incredible display of strength, intelligence and cooperative teamwork as the elephants effortlessly pushed massive tree trunks around the camp. Chiang Mai is great fun; with friendly locals, excellent food, good bars, plenty of temples and great adventure tours close at hand.
Prathat Doi Suthep temple, Chiang MaiPrathat Doi Suthep temple, Chiang MaiPrathat Doi Suthep temple, Chiang Mai

This is my favourite temple in Thailand, a beautiful golden stupa perched on a mountain top.

After enjoying my visit to the north I flew to the south of Thailand with my friends from Thai Airways to the legendary resort island of Ko Samui. The main beach is Chaweng, and I checked into a recommended resort on the beach. The staff checked me into a separate bungalow with balcony and bathroom, only metres from the beach amidst tropical coconut palms, and it seemed I'd arrived in paradise! Ko Samui is one of my favourite island resorts, and I spent over a week on the island in perfect weather having a great time by the sea. The resort staff were superb, and it's no surprise that Thailand is an immensely popular destination for travellers around the world. The Thais really have it all, and the scrummy food and superb nightclubs really top things off.

The Reggae Bar is my favourite club, and every night the place was jam packed with travellers and Thais up for a party. The music is excellent and the beers are always flowing. I was surprised to discover Thais love Bob Marley, but it seems the great man's music is loved all around the world. I was going great guns, but suffered
Chilling with the locals on Ko SamuiChilling with the locals on Ko SamuiChilling with the locals on Ko Samui

Five minutes previously we'd never met. Five minutes later we're all smiling, that's Thailand!
a little from prickly heat in coming from an Australian winter straight into the fierce tropical sun. This occurs when sweat gets trapped under your pores when not acclimatised to a sudden change of weather, and I can assure you it's quite uncomfortable. However, time and air conditioning help alleviate the condition. Travellers told me that the famous full moon party on Ko Pha-Ngan was coming up soon, and my timing was perfect...

So I island hopped over to Ko Pha-Ngan on a speedboat, and noticed the island is far smaller and less developed than Samui. I checked into a resort and spent a few days chilling with the staff and a few other travellers, as we prepared for the full moon party. We headed out to the party in a group, with one of the staff and an English lad from the hostel. The party is a great all night adventure heaving with travellers ready to party. The bars crank music out towards the sea and the revellers dance the night away on the sand, or in the ocean; whatever takes your fancy! We partied on down till late, and I'm glad I experienced this legendary event on
Phi Phi islandPhi Phi islandPhi Phi island

Beautiful tropical waters near the entrance to an island cave.
the backpacker circuit.

I finished my visit by flying on to Phuket which is another beautiful seaside resort island, but with a very different feel to the islands on the east coast. The area around Phuket is the wealthiest in Thailand, and it is very highly developed with a bustling main strip along the beach and loads of big five star hotels. I had an enjoyable stay in Phuket, and the highlight was going to Muay Thai bouts on consecutive evenings. Thai boxers are the toughest of the tough and use elbows, knees, fists, and flying kicks in their murderous bouts. I was introduced to one fighter who was knocked out in a bout the previous evening, and he calmly told me that he fights seven days a week. Now that's tough! Finally it was time to fly back to Bangkok to connect with my flight home. Thailand is a wonderful country to visit, and I had an excellent holiday amongst the friendly locals. I'm sure the word is out but in case you need the good oil, basically all of you should be here now!

In wine there is freedom, in water there is bacteria." Benjamin Franklin

It's home time so until next time, I'm signing off for now


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