Please note that nothing in this post is sponsored in any way. These are my personal recommendations and tips based on my own experiences.
I’ve just got home from 3 glorious weeks in one of my favourite places in the world, Thailand. It was my third time in the country; the first was when I was 20 and spent two months backpacking with my best mate; and then a very different trip in November 2017 when my boyfriend and I lived like VIPs for two weeks staying in swanky beach resorts. This trip (again with my boyfriend) was somewhere in between the two- we opted for 3 star hotels rather than honeymoon resorts (both from a financial standpoint and because there was no craic to be had when everyone else in the resort is literally on their honeymoon!)
We had flown Emirates in 2017 and were super impressed with the airline but as we were flying out on December 29th this trip (peak season and pre-New Years) , the flights were outrageously expensive so we took a slightly more backward route via China with Xiamen airlines. The aircraft was amazing (Disclaimer: I know NOTHING about aircrafts; Conor is a big fan so he assured me it was super modern!) but the service was pretty terrible. I enjoy a wine (or 5) on a long-haul flight and while they did serve wine/beer with the meal, they essentially offered a shot glass of the good stuff and quickly ran out of it… for the entire 11 hour flight (same story for the flight home!) Anyhow, when we finally arrived in Bangkok we flew straight to Phuket an hour later. If you plan on doing this ensure your Bangkok-Phuket flight is from Suvarnabhumi International Airport (BKK) or else you’ll have to take a 40 min taxi to the other airport, DMK.
We booked all of our accommodation for the trip on Booking.com and chose where we stayed based on other travellers’ reviews of the hotel, obviously taking price and amenities into account too. We pretty much only booked places that offered free cancellation in case something stopped our trip from actually happening. We double-checked all of the accommodation reviews on Trip Advisor which I’d recommend you do to ensure you pick the right place.
Our first accommodation in Phuket was probably our biggest mistake. While the rooms at Rang Hill Residence were really spacious and clean, the pool was fine and the gym was adequate; it was located in Phuket Town, a 35 min taxi from the West Coast which was where all the New Years Eve action and nice beaches were. Because we’d paid upfront via Booking.com we couldn’t cancel the accommodation so had to get taxis everywhere. It wasn’t until the end of the trip that we discovered “Grab” which is basically Uber, but super cheap and prevents you getting ripped off by the alleged “Taxi Mafia” in Phuket.
Accommodation aside, we were pleasantly surprised with how much we loved Phuket. I’d heard it was sleazy and overly commercial but we sought out lots of nice spots where we didn’t see any of that. We rang in the new year on Patong Beach and partied on the Bangla Road (Ok, this is definitely a commercial spot but great fun for New Years). The following day we visited Karon Beach and this is where I’d stay the next time I go to Phuket. The beach was beautiful and the surrounding restaurants and bars were buzzy without the craziness of Patong.
Our highlight of Phuket was definitely our day at Kata Rocks, an exclusive resort that looks over the Andaman Sea. The “VIP Infinite Luxury Package” costs 5000 baht per person (approx. €140) but it’s fully redeemable against food, drink and spa treatments. While that’s very pricey by Thai standards, you get a lot of bang for your buck. You literally feel like a Kardashian, sipping poolside espresso martinis, munching on tuna tartare and soaking up the sun in the most beautiful setting. It costs about €1500 a night to stay at the resort so the day package is definitely more feasible!
After a boozy few days in Phuket (not to mention a boozy few weeks over Christmas before that!) we were crying out for some quiet relaxation. You can get a bus from Phuket two hours north to the quiet seaside town of Khao Lak at a cost of about €3 per person! We stayed in a gorgeous family-run boutique hotel called The Retreat. They had free bicycles so you could explore all over and get to the beach in less than five minutes. I felt like one of the Von Trapp kids from The Sound of Music! There were gorgeous beach bars and restaurants dotted along KhukkKhak beach but everything shut down at 10pm which meant lots of early nights which I wasn’t complaining about post-party period!
Thankfully we were on the Andaman Coast not the Gulf of Thailand when the crazy storms hit; islands like Koh Phangan and Koh Tao had to be evacuated. We did have some rain though so decided to head out on a day tour. Mr. Aob who ran the hotel organised a private tuk tuk for us for approximately €10/€12 each. We went to a sea turtle sanctuary which was amazing. Sea turtles have a 1 in 1000 chance of survival from when they’re born to 6 months so they are taken to this sanctuary until they’re ready to be re-released into the wild. We saw tiny newborns and then huge turtles. We also went to the tsunami museum and saw a shipwreck that migrated 2km inland during the tsunami!
This was my third time in Phi Phi and it’s still my very favourite of all of the islands. The first time I was there it was only starting to be rebuilt after the tsunami and seemed to be relatively undiscovered. I got a shock when I revisited 9 years later to see it awash with pizza shops and tattoo parlours and hosting nightly raves on the beach. Although that probably sounds like most people’s worst nightmare, Phi Phi still has a kind of magic to it that’s hard to describe. We stayed at PP Charlie’s which we booked because we knew it was central and to be honest we weren’t expecting much from it at all except that the location was spot on. We were pleasantly surprised to find it was a gorgeous resort with two beautiful infinity pools. PP Princess is the more expensive part of the same resort but I’d definitely recommend saving your money and booking the rooms in PP Charlie as you get access to all the same amenities at way less expense. The pool staff were European and South American and they throw an open-to-all pool party every Friday which was like an American frat party! (or what I imagine an American frat party to be like….)
Phi Phi is literally the paradise picture of Thailand you have in your head… White sandy beaches, clear blue water… We did a mini hike to Freedom Beach over the other side of the island and it was well worth the walk. From there we saw a sign for “Viewpoint” which we’d seen on lots of people’s Instagram feeds, and it’s an incredible viewing spot looking over the whole island. Thinking it was maybe 5 minutes onward from the sign, we started climbing upwards in the 3pm 33 degree heat… Fast forward a FULL HOUR of uphill climb and we made it to the famous viewpoint. While the views were stunning, I was confused (and embarrassed) at how nobody else up there was the shade of tomato Conor and I were, people were in FLIP FLOPS with perfect hair and sweat-free faces.. It turns out there’s a direct route from the town centre that takes perhaps 10/15 minutes to reach viewpoint. You have been warned!
One afternoon we hired a long tail fishing boat for 3 hours to go and see the gorgeous sites around Phi Phi Leh including Maya Bay (which is currently closed to the public for conservation reasons). I’d definitely recommend hiring a boat privately as on previous trips we paid for a group tour that cost more than renting privately and just involved a lot more hanging around. It cost approx €10 per head for the 3 hours private.
Phi Phi definitely has the best nightlife of all the islands we visited. There are plenty of bars (some a little Ayia Napa/ Lads on Tour for my buzz) but the Irish bar is a bit of fun (when are they not?!) and then the beach parties are a great laugh. You can buy buckets on the street with any spirit and mixer (I went for a safe G&T; avoid the Sangsom buckets unless you’re very brave!) at a cost of about €4-€6 and take them to the beach. If beach raves aren’t your style, there are plenty of lovely restaurants; we loved Cosmic for affordable Western food; Garlic 1992 for Thai food and Matt’s Joint for BBQ.
We arrived in Koh Lanta in a similar state to Khao Lak- worn out from partying and ready to chill. Well we couldn’t have picked a better spot! Our accommodation, LaLaanta Hideaway Resort was very literally a hideaway. It was the very last hotel at the bottom of the island, accessed via a rainforest. At the bottom of the rainforest was the hotel which faced onto a secluded beach. I’d imagine this would be the perfect spot if you just wanted to get away from it all after a grievance or messy break up. I could picture myself writing a book there with very little distraction but the monkeys who jumped on our bedroom roof every morning. While we welcomed the peaceful tranquility of the resort, we probably stayed a day too long, staying four nights in total. We couldn’t even walk to a shop and the only restaurants were our hotel’s offering and a beach bar a few doors up.
Bangkok gets a bad rep. I’ve spent two nights there on each of my Thailand trips and enjoyed it more and more each time. Avoid the touristy Khao San Road, that’s probably what gives it it’s bad name. We stayed in the Avani Atrium Hotel which was good value for money and well located. If you’re feeling fancy stay in the Tower Club at the Lebua. We stayed there last year and it’s one of the best hotels I’ve ever been to, with the most epic views. With the Tower Club you have lots of privileges including free drinks in the lounge until 6pm, a major incentive since a cocktails in the hotel start at €22!
For our first night in the city we went to the Iron Fairies, voted one of the best bars in Bangkok. The interiors are amazing and they had live jazz which was pretty cool. The next day we woke up feeling fresh (Dioralyte you are a gift from the heavens!) so hit the gym before going to the “Jim Thompson House” Museum. I had never heard of our man Jim but he’s somewhat of a hero in Thailand. He’s a wealthy American who fell in love with Thailand so set up home in Bangkok and reignited the Thai silk industry as well as curating a vast collection of Thai art which he stored in his home. He mysteriously disappeared in 1967, never to be seen again and rumoured to have been eaten by a tiger, and since then they opened his house up as a museum!
We finished off our trip with a posh meal at Namsaah Bottling Trust, a stunning restaurant set in a bright pink colonial house in the middle of Bangkok. We were told the cocktails were as impressive as the food so got there early to sample a few. I have only tasted cocktails of this standard in the top cocktail bars in New York. The staff were amazing and willing to whip up bespoke drinks according to your tastes. The food that followed was incredible. We shared salmon tacos (salmon tartare in a deep fried wanton) and soft shell crab to start then had Namsaah’s take on a Pad Thai and beef red curry as mains. The Pad Thai was made with foie gras while the curry had succulent slow cooked beef that’s making my mouth water only thinking of it! We were too stuffed for dessert but “Did”, the amazing Maitre Di insisted on sending us their famous banana roti which was equally delicious. We finished off the night in Maggie Choo’s, voted #1 bar in Bangkok. The decor was again amazing (same designer as the Iron Fairies); it’s set in an old bank vault, but it was empty on a Thursday night- maybe it’s more of a weekend spot!
FOR THE ISLANDS
Since most people follow me for fashion content, it’s probably important for me to give an idea of what to bring and wear in Thailand. For the islands keep it super casual and pack light. Honestly, pack your case then take half of the items out. You will wear the same things over and over and in all honesty, no one cares what you look like. Don’t bring heels or wedges- flat sandals are your only guys! Avoid maxi dresses (I made this mistake and packed two, which trailed in the sand and wet ground when I wore them), short/ midi dresses, skirts and shorts work best.
If you plan on going to any of the posh rooftop bars or nice restaurants they have a more formal dress code than the islands. Most door policies don’t allow open toe shoes for men (and some including the Lebua have that rule for women too!) Bring a pair of heels (although smart closed toe flats will also work) and either jeans/trousers or a longer skirt as some don’t allow skirts above the knee (yup, it IS 2019)
TOP THAILAND TRAVEL TIPS
Bring an extension lead so you only need one travel adaptor!
TAKE PROBIOTICS! This is the very best pearl of wisdom I can pass on. My stomach tends to go funny in any tropical environment- Mexico, India, first 2 times in Thailand… This time I took a daily probiotic and didn’t get so much as a tiny pain let alone dodgy bowels!
Get your suncream in Ireland before you travel. Suncream is expensive on the islands and the range of factors is limited.
Set a budget before you go. Thailand isn’t as cheap as it once was so setting a budget and roughly estimating how much you have to spend each day is a good way to keep things under control. We topped up Revolut cards before we went and used one for our accommodation and one for our joint spending money.
Download ‘Grab’ taxi app for Bangkok and Phuket to avoid getting ripped off by taxis.
Buy your mosquito repellent when you get there. We bought proper DEET spray in Ireland before we left and found the local stuff to work so much better and it cost about €3.
DO NOT try local beauty products- I learned the hard way with an extreme allergic reaction to a gold face mask!