Escape to the Tropics
In this overcrowded, superfast world of ours, one sometimes longs to take one’s foot off the accelerator and escape far away from everyday problems and routines. A holiday in Thailand would seem to tick all the right boxes.
It’s far away: 11 hours flying time from Moscow if you go with a stop via Dubai to stretch your legs. Alternatively, you could fly direct in just over seven hours.
It’s totally different: the Thai culture’s symbol is a gentle smile which makes for a change from grim-faced, stressed commuters in the Moscow Metro; its tropical vegetation is the very antithesis of Russia’s pine and birch; and its food—if you like tasty, spicy offerings with inexhaustible supplies of seafood—is a gourmet tourist’s delight.
It’s cheap: imagine what a change it would make to be able to fill your belly, drinks included, for an average of 140 rubles, or stay in a five star hotel such as the Amari Emerald Cove in Koh Chang for 5,300 roubles per room per night, or if you can’t stretch to that, try a small rustic bungalow on the beach for 1,500 roubles per night or even less. There is a wide supply of accommodation with prices to match every taste.
There are dozens of islands to choose from, each offering something different depending on whether you prefer a faster or slower-paced way of life, or a younger or older crowd. Instead of committing to only one island, you could choose to island-hop and try out several different islands. Thailand is highly geared to transport: transfers are cheap and quick, and very efficient.
It’s far more civilised than you probably imagine. If you haven’t been before, you might think, like I did, that it would be difficult to communicate in a language which has no links with either Russian or English, but there is enough English spoken and signage in English to help you find your way. Thailand’s Number 1 revenue-earner is tourism, so every effort is made to help you spend your tourist funds.
It has a warm climate: Thailand is never cold, making it a yearround destination, ideal if you have had enough of or want to take a break from the Russian winter. Lowest temperatures start at around 20C (with the exception of Northern Thailand destinations such as Chiang Mai) the coolest months being November – February (high season) rising to between 32 – 35C in the months between March to May. Thereafter getting cooler but only slightly so. Rainfall is lowest during the cooler months, rising to a maximum in October and November. You can travel lightly. Don’t plan on bringing any warm clothes other than for your trip from home to Thailand and back.
No visas are required: Thailand is one of the few places that does not require visas either for Russians or other foreigners, subject to a maximum stay of 30 days.
Thailand for beginners
This was my first trip to Thailand and a friend and I decided to explore two islands only during a trip lasting seven days: Koh Samet and Koh Chang (the word “Koh” means “island”). There are dozens of other islands, some of the more well known being: Phuket, Krabi, Phi Phi, Koh Samui, Koh Kood and Koh Mac. Each has its own personality and charm and you could arguably spend several trips to Thailand exploring them all before deciding on your favourite.
Smaller than Koh Chang it has much less to offer. A stunning white sand beach on the north-west coast, is lined with small resorts sitting cheek by jowl. There is plenty of activity in the evening, a particular favourite being dining on the beach seated on cushions, sampling tasty Thai food in the balmy night air under the stars. Live music from a talented international band was first class, and we were treated to an exceptional fire display by 13 agile young men with the tightest washboard stomachs I have ever seen. You’ll be left gasping with
About three hours away by car and ferry is Koh Chang (Elephant island), so called because of its shape. It is Thailand’s second largest island. Most of the tourist activities take place on the western side which offers a multitude of accommodation options from a rustic Robinson Crusoe beach bungalow on stilts for about 1,000 roubles a night to the more upmarket resorts such as the elegant five star Amari Emerald Cove costing around 5,300 roubles per night including breakfast. The palm-fringed hotel, which is very popular with Russian tourists, is right next to the longest white sand beach on the island and boasts the Koh Chang’s largest swimming pool, side by side with luxurious spa facilities.
Another enjoyable day trip by bike or taxi is to the south of the island to the fisherman’s village of Bang Bao which is a quaint collection of wooden huts comprising souvenir shops, excellent seafood restaurants and accommodation built on stilts over the water. It’s possible to take boats from here offering fishing, diving and cruising trips.
Satellite and telephone connections offer easy internet access at internet cafes everywhere and at most resorts.
Thailand’s national newspaper, The Nation, recently reported that the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) has initiated a programme that emphasises increased sustainability of the environment. To this end, Koh Chang has become a fore-runner in a community-based solid waste management and energy and resource efficiency programmes, all in a bid to promote more climate-friendly tourism.
Points to ponder
Tourist agencies are available everywhere and are efficient at meeting all your travel requirements from ferries, to taxis and flights and accommodation. On Koh Chang, the Explora Tour agency organised a superb transfer from the hotel to Bangkok via the exquisite Trat airport and good value airport hotel accommodation at The Great Residence for only 800 roubles per night including free pick up and drop off from the airport.
If your English is not fluent, you might find it difficult to understand the English that is spoken by the Thais. If this is the case, you might be better off travelling with a package group where all communication is sorted out for you. If it is your first trip to Thailand, likewise, you might be better off with a group.
If you are not used to warm temperatures, always plan your activities for the early and later parts of the day leaving the hours from 11.00 – 16.00 for siesta in your air-conditioned room or lounging under a shady tree or umbrella by the beach.
Peak months are August, November, December, February and March. Secondary peak months are January and July. Prices adjust accordingly.
Bespoke tailoring in Thailand
With the advent of cheap Chinese clothing exports, tailors in Thailand have witnessed a diminishing trade, however, if you would like a bespoke (tailor-made) suit exactly to your dimensions, it is possible to do so without visiting Thailand, although for best results, it’s always best to visit the tailor in person. He will keep your measurements for five years and you can simply order in future by internet. Suits start at a price of 4000 roubles and are made from local materials (ie 20% wool, the remainder being cotton polyester); median prices are 6000, 7000 and 8000 roubles with a higher content wool material. Top range suits cost around 12,000 roubles and are made from imported cashmere wool. To get a good idea of which fabric styles and colours you would like, browse the net looking at sites such as Gino Matteo, Zenzoni, Armani, or Hugo Bo.