As Thailand is (and has been) so popular with British tourists and witnessing the ‘jitteriness’ of some countries and tour operators – many recommending alternative destinations – I considered, that after the military Coup had seemed to calm things down, the time was right to return and see for myself.
Three of the most visited regions are Bangkok and its nearby attractions, Chiang Mai in the north and Krabi in the south, so I prepared an itinerary to tour during November, which would allow maximum flexibility in the choice of airlines (both international and domestic) as well as strategic locations of hotels.
Etihad got me from London to Bangkok – and back – without a hitch and I used Air Asia for three internal flights – this airline though left a lot to be desired but it was cheap!
Knowing my way around Bangkok after so many past visits, as well as on good terms with the management of a number of popular hotels, I based myself in one of them, the Rembrandt, (located in the Sukhumvit area) and made my sorties from there.
During each of the open and friendly meetings with managers, it became very clear that when the political unrest was at its most critical (early summer 2014) tourist numbers crashed and many hotels were running at less than 40% occupancy.
However, I learned that once the Military Coup had been established for two months or so, the situation stabilised and hotels began to return to normality. Two very experienced managers were pleasantly surprised at the fact that their particular establishment was enjoying a higher percentage of occupancy than before the unrest began.
Trawling around the busy shopping centres in the city, I saw no evidence of tension in either staff or customers…everything was as I remembered – bustling crowds – merchandise piled high (and selling), taxis and tuk-tuks operating as normal. The overhead rail transport system was in full swing and certainly popular.
Although I had ‘done’ most of the tourist ‘must sees’ the city had to offer, I picked-out four and joined the throngs of eager and exited travellers and, again, had to conclude that they were being treat with the same smiling welcome so common in Thailand.
So, totally satisfied as to the normality of Bangkok and the degree of safety British tourists would enjoy, I took one of the three Air Asia flights I mentioned earlier – and an hour later landed in Chiang Mai.
This quite small city is crammed with interesting things to see and witness. Its Night Market bears similarities with some of the ‘pavement vendors’ of Bangkok yet the differences are very welcome. This review is not the place to describe them…it must be left to individual travellers to witness for themselves.
Over the years I had stayed at a number of hotels located in – or close to – the city centre but this time I had chosen to base myself at a fairly new resort nestled on the slopes of a mountain about an hour’s drive northwest. It was called ‘Panviman’ which, when translated into Thai, meant ‘Near to Heaven’. That was a pretty good description!
From it, one can easily visit hill tribe villages, venture into the surrounding forest to see elephants in their natural surroundings, or just soak up the magnificent scenery. Nearby is the Queen Sirikit Botanical Gardens, well worth a leisurely stroll around for sure. Also within a few minutes drive is the Maesa Elephant Camp – a place to avoid at all costs, unless you enjoy witnessing cruelty, abuse and money grabbing at its very worst.
Chiang Mai city and its environs, I found to be just as welcoming, enchanting and SAFE as Bangkok. No hesitation at all in stating that opinion. I toured the night market yet again and if anything, it had improved since my last visit…more interesting side stalls…more cafes and eating places – more absolutely brilliant artists who, from a passport sized photograph, can produce a quite stunning drawing or painting to a size of your choice. Standing behind one of them for 10 minutes as they wield their pencils, crayons and paintbrushes, is a wondrous experience.
My next leg was a two hour flight south to Krabi on the Andaman coast. With very little warning, Air Asia cancelled the noon flight (the one I had booked) and rescheduled its departure for 5.30pm. The result of this was, that passengers did not arrive at their chosen hotels until around 9pm. I did try my best to solicit the reason for the change of flight times but my questions were well fielded.
Keeping to a similar pattern as for Chiang Mai, I had reserved accommodation at the Elements Resort located some 18 kilometres north of the well known Ao Nang beach. The hotel provided a shuttle service for those seeking a change from total peace and quiet of the hotel grounds and facilities (well, other than the evening chorus of frog calls).
Yet again, the management’s response to my questions about the Coup, followed the same pattern as those given to me in Bangkok and Chiang Mai. Everything I witnessed in all parts of Krabi, substantiated that.
One common thing I did find in this resort though, was the steep rise in prices since my last visit two years earlier. Taxi fares for example were at least double those in Bangkok and dining in a modest cafe cost as much as similar establishments in the UK, which was a surprise indeed.
I found Ao Nang’s attractive promenade and its single shopping street were being well used by tourists from many nations, which, of course was a sign that a return to pre-Coup days had in fact happened. Add to that the obvious linear expansion of hotels, restaurants, shops and attractions, one could be forgiven if comparing Ao Nang to the more established resorts like Phuket and Koh Samui. It did seem to me that it had lost much of its earlier charm, which is a great pity.
Two of the most popular excursions from Krabi are the sea kayaking around the fascinating limestone karsts (and their hidden caves) and boarding a boat for a trip offshore to one or more of the nearby islands. I did both.
Whilst the kayaking was extremely well organised, well led and fully equipped with all the necessary safety gear, the same could not be said for the large ‘long-tail’ wooden boat, I and some hundred other passengers were crammed into for a ‘cruise’ to four islands. Climbing on and off the craft was certainly difficult and stressful, as I watched and listened to so many negative comments. That there were not enough lifejackets for all passengers was indicative of the standard of care the management deemed necessary for it clients. The so-called included lunch consisted of one earlier barbecued chicken leg the size of a pigeon’s and a small dollop of warm sticky rice…hmmm!
As to the four islands themselves, they were a total disappointment. Strewn with litter, lined with sellers of food, drink and merchandise of all types at inflated prices. All in all, an excursion to forget.
So, folks, three regions of Thailand explored with the main aim of determining the overall safety UK tourists can expect now that Thailand is under military control. Every aspect of that scenario was uppermost in my mind as I looked, listened and learned and my firm assessment of the situation is a positive one.
Want to visit ‘The Land of Smiles’? Then make your choices as to what parts and when, from the wealth of information available and go.