A first-person account of backpacking around scenic Thailand
In my travels across the world, it has always mystified me how you almost never see an Indian backpacker. Is it because we don't have six-foot Scandinavian frames to carry 30-kg backpacks, or do we love our coterie of friends too much to make new ones? Or, is it that we can't rough it out in small, sparse rooms with a lizard or two for company? Probably all.
Currently between jobs, I decide to go on a backpacking holiday all by myself.
To Thailand. Giving a miss to Pattaya, I decide to make the gorgeous islands of Koh Samui my base and explore Koh Tao and Koh Phangan.
Koh Tao is possibly the most beautiful island in Thailand, the best place for diving courses, while Koh Phangan is host to arguably the best beach party in the world. Every month, between 10,000 and 30,000 visitors converge at Haad Rin, a beach in Koh Phangan, for the Full Moon Party.
I settle on a 13-day trip on a budget of $600 (approx Rs. 28,000), about $50 a day, excluding the return airfare. Ticket in hand, and budget accommodation booked, I retrieve my 20-kg trusty Eagle Creek backpack from the loft. Before long, I decided to take along my more comfortable suitcase instead — a backpacker with a suitcase-on-wheels!
I land in Bangkok, bleary eyed, in the wee hours and avail myself of the tourism promotion free visa, an offer valid till June 2011. And then, find a comfortable air-conditioned bus and headed to Khao San, the backpacker's Mecca in Thailand —loud, raucous, gritty and ever so charming.
I find an inexpensive, clean room air-conditioned room priced at just $ 14, shower and set out to get a bus and ferry ticket to Koh Samui for the morning. The return ticket by A/C bus-ferry combo, including a drop to my hotel on the other side of Samui works out to just $ 40. After a comfortable seven-hour bus ride (the Red shirts apart, the Thai obviously love violence — we had to watch four gory vampire movies on the bus!), we arrive at the pier. I am pleasantly surprised at how comfortable the superfast air-conditioned ferry to Koh Samui is.
Koh Samui has something for everyone — from the Hedonistic nightlife at Chaweng and incredibly beautiful sunsets at Lipa Noi to surfing at Maenam and incredible choice of food.
After four incredible days here, I set out for Koh Tao (meaning Turtle Island), quiet, beautiful and relatively unspoilt. The most popular beach is Sairee on the west coast, great for snorkelling and SCUBA diving; I splurge (by backpacking standards) on a SCUBA diving day trip.
As a fitting conclusion to the trip, I head to Koh Phangan, and Haad Rin for the Full Moon Party — buckets of alcohol, more than 10,000 people, fluorescent body paint, and partying all night…
Thirteen days of madness and one of the best trips in my life later, at the Suvarnabhoomi airport in Bangkok I notice an Indian family sitting next to me. We get chatting, and they are alarmed at my travelling alone, and perplexed as to why I didn't go to Pattaya. It's going to take a while for backpacking Indian ishtyle tobecome common!