The Thai Islands
Did you know there are 1430 islands in Thailand? These are split between the Andaman Sea (on the west), and the Gulf of Thailand (on the eastern side). I visited a handful of these during my time in Thailand, each of them with their own unique character, different in their own ways. I spent most of my time in the southern islands in the Gulf of Thailand.
I previously shared pictures from my trip to northern Thailand, and although probably not the best photos I've ever taken (on a phone that was basically a potato), I decided to share some photos from my trip to the south for completeness. You can read about my adventures in Thailand here.
Travel advice for Sikhs
No big issues from locals, but there's a ton of tourists from all over the world. When I visited over 5 years ago, it was still some of the richer Europeans and Americans who made up the bulk of travellers here - and no one does condescending racism like the middle class (and this isn't limited to the west, I've seen rich Indians and Pakistanis and they aren't much better).
But, on the whole it was fine. No issues with travelling around, and the airport in Ko Samui, although small, was very welcoming. I didn't get turned away from anywhere, and much of the middle class were relatively thin 'hippie-like' people who wouldn't have tried arguing/starting fights even if they wanted to.
One thing I loved about Thailand, north and south, was the rain. Unlike back home in England, when it rained in Thailand its intense but short. You'll get a powerful shower that lasts a couple of hours and then its back to sunshine. Within minutes the landscape of whatever island I was on transformed completely which changed the whole energy of the place. Streets get deserted, shops close and everyone goes indoors. But its beautiful!
This happened in Ko Samui, literally within an hour the streets went from dry and sandy to a fast moving river. Our open topped taxi struggled to get through the water.
Ko Pha Ngan is the party island, best known for its world famous full moon parties. My trip didn't coincide with the full moon, but when whole island is geared toward one thing, it's pretty difficult to escape. In the evening, the beach transforms into something quite magical. Every hut has a bar, music, and in front of some of them, entertainers. Some of the entertainment is fun, some of it is an accident waiting to happen - but all of it is a lot of fun to be around.
Here's my favourite part about the island - bright lights in the distance. Walking along the beach there are huts and bars dotted around at fairly regular intervals, and in the middle, nothing but darkness. The music and feel of each hut is different from the last, and as you get close to the next place on the beach, the music and sounds of people get louder - as you leave, the lights fade to darkness, and sounds get more distant.
The island isn't all partying. A lonely (and steep) road separates the beach/party area from a much quieter area on the other side. In the middle is largely forest, and I saw a couple of elephants in the distance. I'm not a huge fan of these elephant or tiger parks as the animal are treated pretty poorly - although the elephant sanctuary in Lampang treats its animals much better.
Ko Tao was once known as an island for scuba diving and snorkelling, although lately it's become known as 'murder island' after a few high profile crimes involving western tourists.
It's a shame, because it was my favourite island. The waters around its coast are crystal clear and I took an excursion to go snorkelling. It was the first time I did it and a great experience. The amount and variety of fishes in the water was incredible. Perhaps the scariest part was when someone spotted a shark - while most of the swimmers started to follow the shark, I did the smart thing and swam away from it - white people are insane!
For Singhs reading this blog, you're probably aware of how long it can take for hair to dry after swimming - but the hot weather combined with an open top boat trip back meant that my hair was pretty much dry by the time I stepped off the boat.
Some of the views in Ko Tao were incredible, even something simple like breakfast turns into a picture perfect moment.
Ko Nang Yuan is a small island, not far from Ko Tao and is the closest thing to paradise on Earth. It's relatively small, with a small sandy beach connecting two islands together. The waters are warm with small fish swimming beside you, I could have stayed here forever. On the interior is a set of fairly steep stairs that can take you to the top of the hill....
And it provides for incredible vistas. I'll be honest, the humidity and the shade under the trees meant I got bitten by more mosquitoes on my short climb up the stairs than the other couple of months I spent in the area. But it was well worth it for the breathtaking view from the top.
It's not just snorkelling and scuba diving, the waters around Thailand's islands are great for kayaking. I kayaked around Khao Phing Kan - better known as James Bond island for the famous rocks shown in The Man with the Golden Gun.
I was rowing for what felt like an eternity but much slower than others around me - and I seemed to be exerting much more effort. I thought I might not have the technique right, and it was only when I got back to the beach absolutely exhausted that I realised I was sitting on the boat back to front.
Ko Samui was the largest island that I visited - but probably my least favourite. First of all, the whole place smells a little funky, not sure what it is. and secondly it sort of feels like a southern Spanish island. There's a lot of British, Germany, Australian and American tourists on the island. Many of them have decided to make the island their base as part of gap years. I ended up making friends with a girl from England during my trip to northern Thailand, and she was living in Ko Samui as a teacher so showed me around.
The Big Buddha is probably Ko Samui's most famous landmark, a large golden statue on the edge of a cliff, overlooking a small market at its base. At 12 metres tall it's smaller than some of the Buddha statues in Bangkok, but when everything around the area is relatively low rise, this statue really stands out.
British Sikh, born in the Midlands, based in London, travelling the world seeing new cultures.