Thailand: To Love or Not to Love?

Everyone said we would love Thailand. When we arrived to sweltering winter temperatures and blood-hungry mosquitoes, we were not amused. Also…we’re not beach people. We burn. And sand in places it shouldn’t be is no fun. We’re also not people who like touristy places, and if Thailand is one thing, it is touristy. It was going to be a long 4 weeks.

They said we’d really love Chiang Mai. To be fair, I did have an amusing and memorable massage (of the human pretzel type) that cost next to nothing…and I’m a sucker for old city walls, but we had come overland from Burma/Myanmar, and the contrast between Thailand and Burma was jarring.

Having only recently opened up to tourism, Burma was about as off-the-beaten track as we’d ever been. Thailand had nearly 30 million tourist in 2015. Myanmar? 4.7 million. I thought that number would be smaller before I looked it up ?. Still, Thailand saw more than 25 million additional tourists in 2015 than Myanmar. Have I mentioned I’m an introvert? Thailand is not for introverts.

To Love

While our first impression of Thailand was jaded, in retrospect, there was much to love. As I write this, it’s now three years later, but here are the highlights I remember:

  • Best hotel room ever (Conrad Koh Samui) for free (normally ~$1,000 per night) thanks to my partner’s amazing credit card churning skills (yes, this is the secret to how we travel). We’d absolutely return for a repeat if we ever have enough points to do so again. *Warning: The hill to get there is killer…don’t try 2 people plus backpacks on a scooter.
  • Standing on the edge of our private infinity plunge pool high above the ocean at the Conrad Koh Samui
  • All you can eat mashed potatoes for breakfast at the Conrad – of course there was other food as well, but their mashed potatoes were amazing
  • Breakfast at Coffee Cup in Koh Samui – excellent food and service
  • Staying in a beachfront bungalow at Secret Garden in Koh Samui
  • Both of us getting a lift simultaneously on the back of a local’s motor bike to our Ko Lanta Airbnb accommodation – much more successful than trying to scooter up the Conrad hill
  • Staying in Ko Lanta at an over-the-sea Airbnb pole house (and learning that we can’t sleep with the sound of waves splashing under the bed)
  • Wandering Ko Lanta’s old town and enjoying Thai food, which is one of our favorite cuisines
  • Going on a Bangkok Food Tour and learning more about Thai cooking
  • Staying at the JW  Marriott Khao Lak Resort and Spa for free using points – one of our top 3 hotel experiences

Different Strokes for Different Folks

So, yes, most of our best memories in Thailand are at pretty ritzy hotels in isolated locations. Or involve food. We tried to book boat tours but were mostly disappointed as they were either too long or too crowded. If we were going to deal with heat and mosquitoes, we were going to do it alone for a short period of time. One tour operator, exasperated with our inquiries into shorter, less crowded options suggested, “Maybe you just want to stay in your hotel room.” Yes, that is exactly what we wanted.

What can we say? We’re getting older? We’re not beach bums? We can’t handle the mosquitoes? The whole introvert thing? Whatever the case, we were happiest in Thailand when looking out at the ocean from a cool comfortable distance, preferably on a balcony with a glass of white wine. And they weren’t all ritzy. There are plenty of affordable and less ritzy options that make Thailand the perfect place to chill out without breaking the bank.

You’re Gonna Love Thailand!

Everyone said we would love Thailand. Everyone was wrong. Still, in hindsight, it was a great trip. We did go on one private boat tour of canals in Bang Kapi that was interesting and calm, though still pretty touristy, but we opted to skip some of the more touristy aspects, including meeting Karen women. While we were intrigued by the custom the Paduang women have of wearing rings around their necks, we’d read enough about the refugee issue to dissuade us from participating in this particular type of tourism.

For beach people, Thailand is amazing, affordable, and easy to navigate due to a well-developed tourism infrastructure. It’s just not our scene.