Sail with a smiley face landing on the beach after flying in the sky

Year with Thailand and my second chance with this country

When I first travelled to Thailand in 2017, I did everything wrong. I came unprepared, naive and a bit arrogant too, and so quite unsurprisingly I got scammed at every turn. To make matters worse, as if my bruised ego weren’t enough, I sunbathed on a beach in Koh Samui which became a crime scene as a dead body was discovered buried under the sand while I was there, an unsuspecting scammed and grumpy tourist. Oh yeah, I kid you not, this happened. My colossally failed Bangkok and Koh Samui adventures were the first articles on my blog and the first stories I’ve ever completed and published. Despite keeping writing ever since I have always somehow felt that the Bangkok scams were some of the most successful pieces of work. Perhaps it was the first-timer’s thing, or maybe the fact that the whole trip was so emotionally charged. However, rediscovering Bangkok and Thailand after claiming I would never do so again has been incredibly rewarding and fun too. Aside from an account of my year with Thailand and tips for places to visit, I am also giving you some totally awesome selection of highly entertaining Thailand-related read that kept me company during the amazing rebound with a long-lost partner! Let’s go!

Night shot of Buddha's face being half lit
Keeping my cool this time

Giving it another try

When Hong Kong finally opened its gates in 2022, after having been sealed due to covid for more than two years, I logically wondered where I should finally go. The sudden freedom felt strange. However, my wild dreams soon took a very pragmatic turn. In December 2022 there was only one country in Asia which allowed entry without any hassle in the form of PCR tests or quarantine threat and that was Thailand. The direction was clear. It was time to revisit and revive old memories. Bangkok and Phuket it was!

Shot on river with a temple and a boat in the foreground
Serenity can be found

Bangkok and transport

With mixed feelings I booked a trip to Bangkok and was eager to see how I would cope this time. Since I wasn’t too sure about the public transport yet and given I travel without a sim card I took a taxi from the airport. I found taxi drivers to be still pretty much the same guys as back in 2017 honing their scamming skills as much as possible. Luckily, I managed to get a reasonable rate and the driver also gave me a change but I promised myself this would be the last time for me to use taxi from the airport since the constant ‘Hey, you, toll, you pay,’ from the driver reminded me too much of the rascals I met in 2017.

If it ain’t broke don’t fix it

I have kept that promise since and was glad to see that navigating Bangkok public transport is not only perfectly doable with preparation but also incredibly fun, especially once you get the confidence to hop on a Bangkok bus. I totally love the prehistoric roaring rectangular machines that cruise through the sun kissed metropolis and its confusing and crazy traffic, giving its citizens a moderate sense of functionality. They look like they will disintegrate any minute but if it ain’t broke don’t fix it they say. It’s the buses that I always love to see most.

 

Street shot of a bus from the front with reflection of buildings in the windscreen
Back to the 80s

Same but different

Like many formerly touristy spots Bangkok had suffered a heavy pandemic blow. While upon legalising weed, shops with this potent equaliser had mushroomed, streets seemed rather strangely quiet. There was a veil of newly sought identity and uncertainty. This gave me an opportunity to explore back alleys and little streets with cheap food, take boats and buses to different neighbourhoods and understand the city more than I did before as a regular tourist. When you took away the tourist craziness away, the Bangkok tiger became as if dormant, which consequently boosted my confidence. This time I felt stronger and better equipped and suddenly voilà – Bangkok gets under my skin.

Street shot with people waiting for a taxi and tuk tuk passing by
Uncertainty is in the air

Each trip new discovery

In total, I visited Bangkok around 6 times in 2022 and 2023. I have difficulty believing this myself too and wonder how I accomplished that. Each time I stayed in a different neighbourhood, visited less exposed areas, and did plenty of on foot exploration. And yet, it still feels that I have just scratched the surface. Bangkok is a never-ending story; endless inspiration and a place one can return to multiple times and still feel like a new chapter is being written. I have also discovered that Khao San has officially become the least attractive part of Bangkok for me, but I do occasionally venture there out of nostalgia to get my favourite trio – papaya salad, fried rice, and Singha – in the restaurant where I had one of the most unforgettable and cute experiences not only in Bangkok but in Asia overall.

Two typical Bangkok boats parked by the river surrounded by green water flowers brought by current
Floating on the vibe

My favourite Bangkok neighbourhoods

When I thought how to compile all these trips, I thought the best thing would be to break it down to neighbourhoods. So, here’s are the absolute faves after a year of travelling to Bangkok. They are also written in order from the most favourite one.

Bangkok Canale shot at night with reflection in the water
Always looking for reflection

Bangkok Canale

Quiet and yet incredibly convenient area with a dizzying variety of restaurants, cafés and tiny shops hidden in back alleys or in adjacent streets. It also harbours a couple speakeasies. I had never visited a speakeasy in Bangkok until I discovered Ku.

As crowds disappear and noise subdues I discover long-forgotten self-indulgence 

Exactly as I love it – sophisticated but not intrusive, quiet, and unusual. The drinks were lovely and, even if expensive by the local standards, cost a fraction of what I would pay in Hong Kong for a similar experience. I guess I have now developed a penchant for Bangkok’s speakeasy scene.

Bartender's hand as they pour liquid into a glass in preparation of a cocktail
Steady hand necessary

Chinatown

Madness unchained! It reminded me of Hong Kong but with the added Thai spirit it surpassed the buzz and crazy vibe on many levels. I totally loved it. Leaving aside its wonderful replication of true Chinatown feel, the area has it all for chaos lovers and street wanderers, like me. Foodies will appreciate it too. Trendy hipster cafes, traditional outdoor seating restaurants, the smell of fried oil and spice and loud and pervasive traffic with many surprises on the road make this a true gem for keen explorers and photographers. With Bangkok Train Station within walking distance, you are always unbelievably close to unique shots and observations of local lifestyle. Thumbs up for sure!

Traffic with tuk-tuks, bicycle, bus, cars
Enjoy the spirit

Sathorn to Bangkok Canale

Taking a boat was problematic in 2017 and it cost me crazy money. So, I had to do this one properly this time. I made so many trips on the river, sometimes with the only purpose being getting on and off at random stations. But making my way to Sathorn and then walking all the way towards Bangkok Canale created the right cocktail of memories. The most memorable moment was stopping by Siwilai Central Café which houses a unique bookshop and a small exhibition. I lingered for a long time picking up different books that often attracted me by its titles and incredibly intriguing covers. I mean what else can you do when the store you have entered is full of titles on gay culture in Thailand? I honestly wouldn’t skip this by any means. However, the best novel to read about Thailand and Thai culture was still waiting for my discovery.

A photo of a naked gay man in an open book on display
Not your usual cafe

Democracy monument

The whole area is another of my favourite spots. Mostly for the Saket Temple, which is now on top of my list of the most visit-worthy temples in Bangkok, especially since the area houses amazing cafés, restaurants, and bars too, leading all the way to a craft beer spot Tai Soon Bar which has not only hundreds of beers on offer but is extremely photogenic. During the afternoon, however, the Democracy monument becomes a complete traffic madness, and nothing beats observing the chaos and trying to navigate the place.

A monk climbing up stairs of a temple
I am on my way up

Phaya Thai and the best Bangkok Café

If on your way to the airport you can make a stop in Phaya Thai, you should give Factory Café a try. If you read my blog, you will know that insta spots leave me completely indifferent and I avoid the latest fads like plague. But this one? A unique exception that has totally won me despite the droves of similarly keen coffee aficionados. I can honestly tell you that I want to return to Bangkok just to be able to make it to this Thai coffee mecca again and try other unique creations on their menu.

A photo of a coffee glass served on a wooden plate
They do things differently there

This is also why taking a taxi from and to the airport has officially become obsolete for me as it’s only through navigating the Bangkok public transport and different neighbourhoods that you discover places like these. Or at least I do. I guess others might already be using the AI but I’ll stick to old buses and research on the good old Google maps.

Traffic with taxi in the lead and a temple in the background
No more taxi for me

My Bangkok experience in a nutshell

At this stage  I can’t but admit that it is now officially my favourite city. I have once claimed that I don’t like coming twice to the same place and I know now how foolish that statement was. When I think that I once claimed I disliked Thailand and would never return here, I am so glad karma has given me the opportunity to not only reverse this silly statement but also make me fall in love with the place. I don’t like revealing my plans either but there are plenty of areas in Bangkok that I have set my eyes on so let’s see how my Bangkok-related karma pulls strings.

A masked Thai female crossing a street with a mural or a muscular man
Solo female can navigate the giant

Phuket

In case of Phuket, returning to the same place felt weird but much more satisfying this time. In 2017 I had a strange experience, business as usual, and left with a bitter taste in my mouth. Traditionally, I had only myself to blame as my arrogance, naivete and negative energy I had brought from Bangkok didn’t help. Having said that it was an incredibly eventful stay with plenty of going on from scamming to crazy encounters, so at least I’ve got a couple stories to tell from that time. Therefore, this time I wanted to do it right, which started with booking a great place. Sala Bua is a gem amongst guesthouses in Karon and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys simplicity and great quality for a reasonable price.

A girl standing by the beach observing a beach volleyball match
Do not look back, look ahead

Pay and stay

Getting to Karon wasn’t so easy as post-pandemic there were few bus transfers. Of course, I paid for one upon landing, talk to me about the Thai style of doing business again, but soon had to negotiate a refund as it was clear I wasn’t getting to Karon by bus. Not having data connection slowed things down a tad more, but my new Thai karma helped and sent me a couple who went through the same bus confusion – paid for a ride but weren’t going anywhere. You’ve got to love the Thai style, indeed. Unlike me, they were from this century and had internet on their phones. A bit of small talk and in a couple of minutes I was sitting with them in a shared Grab, which a happy smile on my face. Phuket relax could finally start.

A cart in a small street with a mural
Any vehicle will do

Doing it my way

This time I knew what I wanted and how I wanted it, and I went straight for it, skipping all the hassle from navigating the convoluted Thai mind. Morning dips in the sea before the crowds besieged all spots, a massage every day, banana pancakes, loads of food and beer, sleep, and repeat. I also made it to the Phuket town twice which was a nice addition to the otherwise monotonous beach lifestyle. It was lovely overall, but I don’t think I would need to do this again anytime soon.

Two muslim girls wearing the same outfit riding on a motorbike
I won’t copy my past self

Phuket town

Taking a bus to the town is fun. It’s cheap, quick, and easy. What’s more the town offers plenty of connections to the nearby areas around the island so honestly it would be possible to even explore Phuket in a laid-back and fun way. I haven’t done it. But it might be a tip for the more active and adventurous of you.

Street shot from a mini bus in Phuket town wth a red tuk-tuk and a blue bus
Phuket bus never gets old

Koh Samet – absolute highlight!

Until I discovered this little island south of Bangkok, I thought an easily accessible chilled place without herds of tourists couldn’t exist in Thailand. And yet, it does! Koh Samet is exactly what is needed for a short break and since the selection of the area and guesthouse was a total spot on too, one of the best holidays could start! The Viking Holiday Resort is a gorgeous guesthouse in a quiet area where the only loud company are waves crushing violently into the pier. And you know what’s the funniest thing of all? I met more Czechs and Slovaks on this tiny island than I did in my 10 years in Asia.

A bit of home found in a faraway land

I met tourists whose son lives nearby with a Thai girl, a man who got married to a Thai and woman and lives on the island permanently and a Slovak couple who come there to escape their busy lives in Switzerland. Well, one is inclined to assign some meaning to this, but I am certainly not getting married or settling there or anywhere in Thailand. Thanks to more frequent travels last year coupled with reading abundantly about Thailand I now feel like I understand this place better. I have to thank the Viking Resort again because it’s where I found a literary gem that triggered a penchant for understanding Thailand and Thai culture though books. Here’s my favourite trio!

Two lonely wooden beach chairs on a small stone pier with a wave crushing against it and water splashing
This is me

Cultural enrichment – The most memorable books about Thailand

Private Dancer

I found this absolute literary gem on the inconspicuous bookshelf of Viking resort. With it’s risqué but incredibly eloquent cover it didn’t take long to grab my attention. I have always loved simple, true stories. While fiction is amazing too, nothing beats the feeling that all the people, places and situations in the book actually exist and anyone could fall into the same trap as Pete did.

A book cover Private Dancer
Says it all

Private Dancer is unputdownable account of a farang who, as a true textbook example, falls in love with a girl from a go-go bar and thus inflicts a series of intrigues and misfortunes upon himself. If understanding Thailand, its sex industry and the way of thinking that’s deeply ingrained in the society is something you would enjoy, there couldn’t be a better choice than Private Dancer. In fact, a lot has been written about the dark side of the Land of Smiles, but this page-turner is by far the best piece of work treating this subject I have come across. And if I am to be totally honest, it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read. If you, like me, like simple yet gripping stories without embellishments and fluffy language, this awesome book should shine on your bookshelves catching visitors’ eyes.

Book cover with sun glasses on top
Or don’t lead?

The Way Thais lead

Another meaningful book about Thai culture. Frankly, from the readability point of you it’s far from the Private Dancer, which pulls you in from page one and doesn’t let you go, but it has some valuable points too. A lot of research went to this book and it’s not an easy read, which the author himself admits right from the start. But it has some useful insights into Thai way of doing things. If I am to summarise it I’d say it’s about ‘face’, the Asian concept that we Westerners are so bad at accepting and understanding. If pensive approach to reading is what you want, this could be it.

A Fever in My Blood: The American Life and Tragic Death of Darrell Berrigan

A book that describes the gay dark culture of Thailand and sheds some light on the life of a journalist Darell Berrigan who, like so many foreigners, found his death in Bangkok under mysterious circumstances. Mysterious and more often than not unresolved murders of foreigners are just another great reminder that meddling in affairs with Thais rarely ends well.

A woman on a bus looking through a tiny window
Look through different angles

Final observations and lessons I live by now

As I’ve penned this post, I realised how crucial understanding the country and nation you temporarily travel to is to be able to make the most of it. So below I am adding some observations that I have made during my fruitful, second-chance Thai year. And that certainly made my time in Thailand much more enjoyable. All of these observations have been also mentioned in the books but this is my take.

A shot from a Bangkokg train station with a female conductor standing by the train
The train of learning

Communication in Thailand

When I first went to Thailand, I was a complete rookie. Being a rookie in Thailand isn’t the best thing. While there are differences in the approach to life, business and dealing with people, I’d say that Thailand has by far the most peculiar learning curve. If you don’t know anything about the local mindset, you’ll most likely get burnt one way or another. Like I did. Today I know that Thailand is best travelled and enjoyed with a considerable degree of ignorance, an undisputable ability of letting go and beyond imagination levels of tolerance. Thais are sensitive to arrogance and it is best if you don’t show any.

Don’t argue or haggle with Thais

If communication is not their forte, imagine what solving a problem, even the most minor one, will be like? A mettle tester for sure. I believe that once a Thai mind is made up, there’s absolutely no chance of reversing it. That’s probably why this country, despite booming tourism, doesn’t develop much. I like this aspect but that’s because I don’t have to deal with Thais daily.

Hone your haggling skills elsewhere

Having said that, the way some tourists in Phuket haggle for each baht and Thais there don’t seem to mind, contradicts my observations but my overall impressions really are that it’s best to keep to yourself. I must admit that with this approach, zero expectations, inconspicuous presence, and a considerable degree of humbleness I was often pleasantly surprised by the hospitality and kindness of Thais I met. I believe this rule can be applied just pretty much anywhere but in Thailand it’s really the way to go.

Women by a car selling veggies and something in hanging bags
Only locals know their ways

It also applies to money. For example, in Koh Samet I was charged for ice I got with my beer because they didn’t have the beer in the fridge. Technically you could argue it was their fault and you would be right but in Thailand this mentality simply doesn’t work. Therefore, my new motto is that if it doesn’t break the bank, messes up with my day or otherwise significantly inconveniences me, I just let it be and move on. There’s really no point in trying to explain or otherwise argument with most people in the service industry. It’s a complete waste of time and energy.

Rely on yourself

Thai people are nice and can be moderately hospitable but if there’s a way of arranging things by myself, I’ll go with that. Of course sometimes you may need a help with booking transfers or early taxi and then it’s fine but I have come to a conclusion that it’s best not to be too needy. At least for a solo female. It is different with families and I might post a separate article about the challenges solo females face sometimes. Having said that, I enjoyed some great hospitality in Koh Samet and the Viking resort and Phuket too, so I know it’s possible when there’s a will and when the other side is non-invasive.

A masked female tourist asking a monk for help on a bus
Try asking a monk, perhaps?

Love is a strange concept in Thailand

The sex industry in Thailand is always interesting and attractive but once you understand it a tad more, it stops being so mysterious. Truth is, love doesn’t work based on intelligence. You can be as smart as you want, educated, travelled, well-read with shiny career and professional as well as financial success and still fall into a completely shitty relationship by the speed of light. We all want love and we all desperately want to be loved. Some are better at handling it, some learn from their mistakes and some are irreparable romantics, falling into the same traps again and again.  It all comes down to our backgrounds, childhood traumas and whatever dark shit there might be hidden and buried deep down our psyche. Only the strong and resilient ones are able to address these issues, face them and work with them to prevent disasters in their personal life.

A Thai man in the middle of the street draging a loaded cart behind him
Moving with a heavy load

However, the majority are either lazy or ignorant or simply unaware. And the majority of this majority, that is the males, can be found in Thailand. Such types of males rarely score high in their home countries, so they see Thailand as their second chance. How naive. Love in Thailand is first and foremost a business, a transaction, especially in mixed relationships, and it will always be like that. I know there might be exceptions and cases to prove me wrong but generally speaking Thailand really is not the place to look for love.

A Thai man with a question mark tattoed on his shaved head and a Tshirt which readsAll good things must come to an end
Self-explanatory

That’s it folks. I hope you enjoyed my account of Thai travels and perhaps got inspired to check some of the places out.

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