Thailand Travel Itinerary // Save $$, Eat Vegan + Plastic Free Tips
Invited to a Thailand Wedding in Koh Lak by my English mate, we had the amazing opportunity to travel around Thailand for a couple weeks in February, after the ceremony.
Here’s my run-down of our itinerary, do’s and don’t, how to spend minimal $$$, vegan and veggie eats and advice on reducing your plastic travel consumption.
DAY 1-2 : PHUKET :-
1. Get lost in Phuket Old Town. Street eats, graffiti and hidden galleries waiting to be discovered around every corner. The weekend night Market was especially good for food, as cheap as 20 baht (AU$1) for a coconut shake or Thai sweet and savory snacks to try, get there early as it gets so busy with locals filling up for their families dinner.
2. Skip the overpriced taxi drivers and get on a local bus from the Phuket old bus station for 30-40 baht a pop, you won’t feel bad chugging along to Kata or Patong Beach whilst seeing the sights on your journey. Pretty easy to locate the place names, just look out for the names in English on the front or side of the bus.
3. Get away from the masses and walk from Kata up to the Big Buddha. Not an easy walk but you’ll see monkeys swinging from the trees, spectacular views and only a handful of hikers on the vertical 1.5km climb. The big Buddha is an amazing site, but overpopulated by the hundred tourists snapping the exact same selfie in the exact same location which is a shame - (remember to bring leggings and a scarf to cover knees/shoulders)
DAY 3-5 : KOH LAK :-
1. This Wedding and Honeymoon destination was the primary reason for visiting Thailand for our mates wedding. Expect a relaxed, cocktail drinking resort vibes with families and loved up couples.
2. Sign up for a boat tour and snorkeling trip to one of the neighbouring Similan islands across the Andaman Sea.
3. Hire a scooter for 200-300 baht a day (about $AU$13) and zoom around the area to the waterfalls, Coconut Beach and the cafes on the main strip for a fraction of a taxi price.
4. Although we were a bit disheartened paying to go see one of the natural waterfalls on Koh Lak (200 baht each) this was a good way to get out into the nature away from tourist sites, have a swim and a brisk walk.
DAY 6-10 : BANGKOK :-
1. Experience an overnight sleeper train from Surit Thani on your way to Bangkok. For 700 baht pp (AU$30 apx) you get a bed with a privacy curtain in second class or splash out for your own private cabin with showers in first class for apx 1450 baht (AU$60). The10 hours + train ride seems a breeze and is quite refreshing once you arrive in Hua Lamphong after a full night’s sleep.
2. Get a metered taxi from the airport / train station and avoid private taxi drivers calling out a ridiculous rates for a 15 min journey (500 baht!) and tuk tuk’s that now feel like a touristy scam over charging the unknowing traveller. Metered taxi’s start from 35 baht (about AU$1.50) and increase depending on distance travelling.
3. Suss our your local coffee shops like Wassana Kafe rather than heading to tourist comfort traps like Starbuck’s – you’ll get a better experience and your coffee will be half the price at 40 baht (AU$2) rather than 80 baht.
4. Chinese New Year 2018 in Chinatown – we were lucky to be in Bangkok for CNY of the Dog! The entire Chinatown street was filled to the brim with Red Lanterns and street lined with food and trinkets on sale. By night the street were jam packed as a Dragon Parade charged through the street and Chinese Dancers performed on stage.
5. It was a shame we happened upon The Jam Factory on the last night in Bangkok. The bookshop, cafe and gift shop was filled with innovative products, matcha soy lattes and yummy waffles and ice cream. This is what I thought more of a Bangkok would have evolved into but it is still hidden away from the usual tourist grasp (which I suppose is better).
6. See the Temples and Grand Palace – Do the usual tour of The Grand Palace, Wat Arun Temple and the Leaning Buddha. The spectacular views, mosaic tile colours and architecture are also busy tourist hot spots. Remember girls and boys to cover knees and shoulders!
7. Water Dragons – you can these creatures lurking in the drains or wading through the waterways through Bangkok and we spotted them after a stroll through the city.
8. Ayutthaya – this is a must see, stunning temples and ruins in this city; with our low budget we opted to take the train from Hua Lamphong for 20baht pp, then bartered a tuk tuk driver down to take you around the ruins for a couple hours for 400 baht.
DAY 11-15 : AO NANG, KRABI, RAILAY BEACH + KOH LANTA :-
1. The final leg of the journey by the sea was very much needed rest. Flying into Krabi airport, I assumed right that this was a backpacker, party central destination. But as we headed towards Ao Nang, Railay Beach and finally Koh Lanta, the crowds slowly reduced and calm was left in its place.
2. Ao Nang was a holiday strip of resorts, restaurants, drink holes and boat tours to the various islands off the shore, worth heading there the day before you move to one of the islands.
3. Railay Beach – Alex had previously visited Thailand about 13 years ago and was shocked with the number of boats and tourist occupying this small stretch of beach. Although a pretty stunning destination surrounded by cliffs and chance to lie in the flat, turquoise water of the ocean, the tourist masses wrecked the overall enjoyment of what could be a secluded getaway access only by boat.
4. Koh Phi Phi, Ko Pu, Ko Yao Yai, Koh Lanta – So many islands to visit, so little time! We decided for rest and relaxation on Koh Lanta for our last 3 nights and spent the last of our spending money on a Bamboo Hut right on the Beach. Hire a scooter and visit the waterfall, lookouts, hidden beaches and lighthouse before getting a beer and food on one of the foodie spots on the beach as the sunsets.
5. Head back to Phuket via High Speed Ferry for 900 baht (AU$37) and avoid the slow, sweaty bus that chugs back to the city for 200 baht less through Krabi. Taking apx 2 hours by boat (+ waiting time) back to mainland, we were able to enjoy brekkie, have a swim and chill a little before heading to the airport for 5pm!
REMEMBER TO PACK :-
- Knees and Shoulders have to be covered to visit temples: Take a tee and leggings or buy a lightweight sarong from the markets that folds down small to cover yourself up.
- Our klean kanteen insulated flask we purchased in Patagonia was a lifesaver. We were amazed every time we drank our ice cold water after half a day sitting in our sweaty hot bags. We were also able to fill up from filtered water machine about half the time we were travelling, which saved us buying plastic bottled water.
- Liar Sun Tote bag - I loved pulling this out at 7-eleven before the cashier had time to pack my 2 items in 7 pieces of plastic. This tiny organic cotton tote folds down small in our backpack so out of the way but was so useful to pull out on so many occasions.
- Rucksack – To carry snacks, water bottle, camera, sarong, phone and other usual day to day needs.
- Ear Plugs – For the plane and noisy air con units in hotels and hostels.
SHOULD HAVE TAKEN :-
Our minimal plastic consumption over the last year was probably completely shattered by this trip, which I am so bummed about.
Thailand is so heavily wrapped in plastic (literally), that it probably undoes everyone’s good effort in one single swoop, every single day. The country revolves in disposable plastic - bags, straws, cups, over packaged merch, etc.
1. Food Container : although pretty bulky. I would have felt better about my waste consumption if I packed one with me. From airport food, to the numerous street food we ate, we tried to refuse as much disposable packaging we could but still received and sadly had to dispose of a lot more than I’d like to admit.
2. Coffee Cup : We didn’t take our beloved Joco coffee cup as we decided to pack light to move around quickly and easily. On reflection we should have taken a bigger day rucksack to keep our cups and containers on hand. Sitting in coffee shops, assuming we would get our iced latte in a tall glass; 8/10 times we were handed a plastic cup with a lid. Bahh!!! Will be investing in a bigger coffee cup or flask for our next trip.
3. We tried a few Thai drinks at the markets and every single time received a takeaway plastic cups encased in a pretty useless plastic bag to hold.
4. Straw- these useless inventions are popular at resorts and tourist reaturants, every time I ordered a drink, it would come with a new squeaky clean straw - bahhh - take a stainless steel reusable one with you or remember (unlike me) to say you don’t need one every single time you order a drink.
DIDN’T LIKE :-
1. Being heckled by taxi and tuk tuk drivers and boat tours who shamelessly scam clueless tourists into paying way too much to drive you 5 mins down the road. We were almost roped into paying 100 baht for a long boat trip one way down the Bangkok river when we were trying to find the local 15 baht ferry.
2. I didn’t think Thailand would be so busy. National parks, bus/ boats tours and top sites are overpriced and for the mass of tourists wanting to take the exact same photo, in the exact same location. It is rare to discover a quiet secret of the beaten track as there are many bus loads of people out for the perfect selfie on endless tours chugging towards you right round every corner.
3. I was shocked to find the same clothing, sarongs and souvenirs in every single shop in all areas of Thailand; it gave me feeling that nothing is truly unique or handcrafted - instead mass manufactured cheap goods. I only bought a sarong and fridge magnet as memories of my trip
4. Plastic is Everywhere. I couldn’t avoid it if I tried; trying to refuse plastic straws, individually wrapped fruit, and pastries, plastic bags and plastic cups was very difficult and we often got weird looks when we said no. Next time I head to Asia I will have a coffee cup, metal straw and food container to accompany my tote bag and Flask in a backpack at all times, and will be waving this rapidly at servers in every shop, stall or café to ensure I do not get given disposable single use plastic anything.
5. Do not Ride the Elephants! Although this is a popular thing to do and advertised everywhere, there is a dark side to elephant tourism. These endangered species are illegally captured, tortured and caged as a baby in order to be trained and completely tamed so paying tourists can ride them and watch them do tricks. The fear of torture throughout their life continues the mistreatment of these poor, beautiful creatures and motivates them to continue working. Do not support these industries, only elephant sanctuary that bans elephant tricks and riding can be trusted.
6. Water Bottles – hard to avoid but where you can, fill up you water bottle with filtered water from the water machines scattered around residential areas for as little as 1 baht – just need more through the country.
VEGAN / VEGETARIAN
1. Dairy free milk is rarely on offer, but starting to show up in a handful of places. If you are lactose intolerant opt for green tea / black coffee instead.
2. We found a few Vegan / Vegetarian Restaurant’s scattered around Thailand with delicious food, but be sure to google them in the area you are travelling to.
- Khao San Road, Bangkok – Ethos Vegan & Vegetarian Restaurant : We got some relief from the endless street stalls, bars and street food vendors on this busy backpacker party strip in Bangkok and found Ethos. Sitting cross legging on the floor on low tables surrounded by greeny and a hefty menu filled with veggie and vegan food options was a treat.
- Koh Lanta - Kunda Vegan & Vegetarian Restaurant : Clean eating on the main strip allowed us to adjust back to our routine with a yummy Healing Holiday smoothie with Pineapple, Turmeric, Mango, Black Pepper and Yoghurt, and Mushrooms and Onions on bread with a huge, fresh salad for brekkie.
- Eat Street Food – street food is popular all over Thailand, many Thai locals eat out for every meal so expect to find vendors selling Curry’s, snacks, fruit and drinks on every corner you wander around.
Ask for Veggie options at street vendors and markets, we tried Thai Veggie Spring Rolls, Mango Sticky Rice, Veggie Pad Thai (or vegan without egg – ask!), Coconut Shake’s or fresh coconuts, steamed sweet potato and taro buns, Kanom Krok (coconut rice pancake pudding), Khanom Buang (Thai Sweet Mini Crepes) to name a few and for only around 10-25 baht a pop (less than AU$1).
- Spicy Veggie Green or Red curry– Available everywhere, I’ve traditionally made it with fish sauce but unsure if authentic Thai recipes include this? Our favourite was green curry, veggie spring rolls and a cooling coconut shake at Toh Plue Restaurant nestled in the middle of the Chatuchak Weekend Market.