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Culture Shocks and Shocking Sights – Thai Intro (Iona Bepey)

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Take a peep at adventure traveller Iona’s account of her trip to Thailand with Gap 360…

Hello Thailand!

First-time travelling outside of Europe, and I wasn’t entirely sure what I was stepping off the plane into. Bangkok is a buzzing, filthy, exciting and smelly city unlike anything I’ve ever seen before; sufficed to say it took me far longer to grow accustomed to the pace and culture than it did to fall inexplicably in love with this place – from the peculiar calm in and around Wat Pho, to the unbelievable buzz of Khaosan Road, and our first experience of Thai street food.

image_3Following a cooking class and a pretty novel twelve hours on an overnight train, the Thai Intro Team landed in Khao Sok. After three days immersed in the city smog and packed streets of Bangkok, Kaho Sok was the perfect remedy – 739 square kilometres of turquoise water, scorching sun and tiny floating bungalows.
After an amazing day of tubing, swimming and sunbathing (in my case, sunburning), we moved on to Kho Phangan – described since by a good friend of mine as ‘the Ibiza of Asia’. Thai Intro’s amazing Sarana Bungalows were our home for the remainder of the trip – gorgeous wooden huts and an infinity pool, looking out over the beach and the island of Kho Samui straight ahead.

Amongst countless incredible experiences Thai Intro provided for us, my personal highlight was to occur on our second day in Kho Phangan, when we were bussed into the hills to visit an elephant sanctuary. Of all the amazing things we saw and did in Thailand, working with elephants is the experience I’d image_5most like to repeat. If you’re looking for a reason to come, or to come back, never underestimate the entertainment value of dropping your camera off the top of an elephant, and having the elephant hand it back to you in one piece!

Thai Intro was an amazing experience from start to finish, and a must-do for first-time travellers. Next was on to Kho Phi-Phi, and the rest of our amazing adventure…

Branching Out – Exploring Thailand

Leaving the Thai Intro group brought an end to the security. No more Thai Intro guides, pre-paid accommodation or familiar faces – utterly independent, stupidly excited and completely terrified, with a whole lot of Thailand to explore.

image_4First stop was Kho Phi-Phi, after a ferry crossing that nearly killed us. Gap 360 had set up our first night’s accommodation and a prospective four days of island hopping, boat tours and beaches. Sadly, it was not to be – predictably unpredictable Thai weather had us stranded with no boats willing to brave the waves. Still, with bouts of incredible sunshine and a poolside to lounge on… what’s Thai for ‘swings and roundabouts’…?

Day Three in Phi-Phi led us to discover the best spot on the island (or arguably any island) for food: Pum is located on Phi-Phi, in Chiang Mai and Phuket as well as having branches in the UK and France. As with a lot of chain restaurants, we were expecting tasty but inauthentic food; finding that the opposite is true was a godsend! As well as an amazing selection of cocktails, the food is cheap, fresh and delicious – highly recommended!

imageAfter leaving Phi-Phi, it was on to Railay Beach – miles of totally undisturbed sand, and dinner in bamboo huts, looking out at the sunset. A chance meeting on the ferry crossing from Phi-Phi quickly turned into something to write home about – two English girls also looking for accommodation, who ended up as our roommates for the next three nights.

Discussions with members of our Thai Intro group, as well as the Thai Intro guides and countless people we met along the way had left us without many high expectations about Phuket. Sufficed to say we were pleased to discover our mistake! Phuket felt like Bangkok on a smaller scale, with the added bonus of Patong Beach just around the corner from our hostel.

But we were to discover that (mostly) great weather and the close proximity of the sea is far from all Phuket has to offer. The Khaosan Road of Southern Thailand turns out to be Banglar Road – a riotous strip (no pun intended) of bars, clubs, cabaret and local ladies. Go after a drink or five, with an open mind and a sense of humour!

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